Using media to connect African farmers with scientific innovation and technology

By Abdullahi Tsanni

November 28, 2019

I had one of those way-cool moments — and what I now call the most memorable experience of my life — this past week in Mombasa, Kenya.

It all started in late October, when I received an invitation from the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) to attend the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa (OFAB) 2019 Media Awards on Nov. 21.

The AATF is a nonprofit organization focused on providing smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa with practical technology solutions capable of addressing their farm productivity constraints and improving their livelihoods. One of its initiatives is OFAB, which works to enhance knowledge-sharing and awareness on agricultural biotechnology across seven African countries: Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana, Ethiopia, Uganda, Nigeria and Burkina Faso.

Exactly 18 days after receiving AATF’s invitation, OFAB-Nigeria named me best agricultural biotechnology reporter in the print and online category — and overall journalist of the year — for my entry “GMO debate affects public sentiment in Nigeria.” I understood then that AATF’s email was but a confirmation that I would be representing Nigeria at the continental level of the media awards in Mombasa.

As is typical of Mombasa’s fluctuating tropical climate, it was a relatively cool evening when the crème de la crème of Africa’s science journalists joined scientists and policymakers from the seven OFAB countries for the media awards ceremony at the Sarova Whitesands Hotel. Dressed in a light-blue striped, knee-level kaftan, a black cap and a green-white-green traditional scarf, I joined the throng of people dressed primarily in their own colorful national and traditional garb.

Eugenia Abu, a veteran multimedia journalist who spoke on behalf of the panel of judges, said the awards were intended to acknowledge excellence in science journalism. “We congratulate all the winners and urge for more synergy between science and journalism to enable AATF and OFAB to promote better lives for small-holder farmers on the continent through technology,” Abu said.

As the crowd cheered, I heard my name announced as the winner in the print and online category. Visibly excited, but also bewildered, I began making my way to the stage. Many thoughts raced through my head at that auspicious moment, such as “why are farmers in Africa slow in adopting agricultural innovations?” I recalled that in developing my award-winning piece, I had interviewed many people on the streets who did not know what genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are or understand the term biotechnology.

Moreover, I thought again, studies have shown that our current trajectory for crop yields is insufficient to nourish the world’s population by 2050. Hence, with the world’s growing population and climate change, there’s a need for greater and more consistent food production around the globe. This is particularly true in Africa, which is projected to hit 2.2. billion people by 2050.

Africa cannot achieve food sufficiency or realize its dream of becoming the “food basket of the world” without farmers having access to improved seeds, agricultural tools and technology on their farms. Thus journalists have a critical role to play in informing and educating African farmers and consumers about advances in modern agriculture and ensuring that farmers have access to options, including biotechnology. My aim is to connect these scientific innovations and technology to farmers in Africa through better communication.

Abdullahi Tsanni and Alliance Director Sarah Evanega at the OFAB awards ceremony.

On Nov. 23, as my Ethiopian Airlines return flight touched down in Abuja, I was filled with a sense of satisfaction for all that had transpired in Mombasa as well as nostalgia for the incredibly talented African journalists with whom I had shared the homey hospitality of the Sarova Whitesands Hotel for the past three days.

As a science journalist, I also felt a strong reconfirmation of my belief  that Africa’s agriculture needs science and technology more than any other continent in the world. Consequently, African journalists must understand and believe in the potential of science and technology so as to report, write and communicate science accurately and spur economic development on the continent.

Asante!

Abdullahi Tsanni is a Nigerian science writer and Alliance for Science contributor.