African researchers engage media to communicate findings

Top African science journalists and researchers gathered in Accra Ghana mid February, to discuss ways of communicating vital research findings in agriculture to the continent’s billion population.

Journalists and scientists as Accra conference and training

The conference organized by Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) and the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) also had both parties trained in effective communication by trainers from WREN Media in UK.

According to Samuel Mikenga of the CTA, it’s only when media and researchers learn to work in harmony without deep rooted suspicions can agriculture in Africa progress.  Among the journalists at the conference, it was near unanimous their willingness to report on beneficial researches is hindered by the scientists’ reluctance to trust them to correctly report these facts.  The scientists issued a rejoinder that it reflected badly on them when hard work of research is erroneously reported.

Nonetheless the 5 day training, highlighted instances where good communication link up between journalists and researchers was a success.  The Western Africa media coverage of New Rice for Africa (NERICA) a drought resistant variety, grown in low and high lands and guarantees double yields was viewed as a model where communication made an impact among Africa’s rural smallholder farmers.

In some regions researchers involved in NERICA dissemination noted it had 25 percent adoption by farmers according to Dr. Mathew Gboku, Deputy Director-General Research, Sierra Leone Agricultural Research Institute (SLARI). Dr Gboku urged the media to be engaging researchers proactively not only when research has been released but also when it’s in progress.  That way, journalists are able to grasp facts at early stages and understand the research in depth before release and avoid reporting errors.

The views were echoed by FARA Africa Executive Director Professor Monty Jones who noted that agricultural research in Africa had resulted in 39 percent increase in yields in Africa. “The media has a role to publicize researches to masses,” said Professor Jones.  This will play a role in maintaining the continent’s agricultural sector growth by 6 percent per year which has been the case since year 2000.

“We need to stop Africa from being the world basket case to being a food basket,” said Diran Onifade the Executive Editor of Africa Science Technology and Innovation News.  The key to that according to Onifade is to ensure agricultural reporting is appealing to young Africans most who shun it.  According to Mike Davison a trainer with WREN Media researches need to be communicated to masses in a simplistic and relatable ways complemented by use of photography or artistry where necessary.

The training wrapped up with a visit to a community FM station Radio Ada in Anyankpor Village that broadcasts to over 5000 farmers in 8 districts in their Dangme native language. The radio since 1998 has been a conduit researchers have used to advise and interact with peasant farmers in the region.  Through the radio the farmers have learned from researchers on the importance of composting, fertilizer application, new farming technologies and availability of new better seed in the region.

Through the radio farmers have begun growing onions which are lucrative than other crops like maize. Farmers who are successful have their stories aired to motivate others to farm better.  “The use of manure has gone up,” said Isaac Djagbelety the Manager of the radio.  David Dornor a local farmer recalls how through the radio they were able to fight worms by spraying Neem on their crops.

Myra Wopereis Pura the Director of Access to Knowledge and Technologies at FARA Africa urged the participants to strengthen research and media partnerships nationally. That will ensure such partnerships at continental level will be stronger and lead to more efficient communication.

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