I Want to Make Africa more Food and Nutrition Secure through Science Communication
All over the world, science and technology networks are transforming human conditions in health, agriculture and economic growth. Today, technology forms the bedrock of modern agricultural practices and functions as the backbone on which agriculture exists. As an example, many countries of the world have adopted biotechnology in agriculture to combat global food insecurity posed by climate change, pests and insect attacks, as well as limited natural resources for farming – water and land.
Through the use of genetic engineering, genetically modified crops such as cotton, cowpea, cassava, soybean, rice and maize have been engineered to resist pest attacks and withstand harsh weather conditions to help boost agricultural production and increase profits for farmers. More than ever, with the recent waves of technological advancements - synthetic biology, Internet of Things (IoT), Robotics and Hydroponics - agricultural innovators are developing novel and practical solutions to existing agricultural challenges.
However, lack of science communication, rumours, cultural and religious misconceptions about science, have continued to slow down the pace of democratising science, technology and innovation in Africa - preventing our dear continent, from exploiting the nascent efficiencies of science and technology. Science denialism!
Science Journalism is pivotal towards a successful adoption of Science, Technology and Innovation in Africa. Science Journalism - translates complex scientific Jargons, into simpler and understandable language forms for the consumption of policymakers and the general public as well. It is the perfect communication bridge between scientific research and policy-making which will also, focus public interests on science, technology and innovation issues.
In the context of agricultural biotechnology and genetic engineering, science journalism will aid the public in understanding the scientific and societal implications of genetic research and biotechnology applications to human lives, thus, promote science literacy more broadly.
The coverage of science by the mass-media in Africa is weak, and most coverage of biotechnology is largely dominated by the west with broad narratives that focus on outside influences. With the abundant human resource of the young continent, Africa can feed itself and become a world agricultural leader. This will involve building capacities of its young, in Science Journalism and reporting to produce quality stories that will shed fresh and more deeply nuanced light on science and technology, as we explore the best way to bring biotechnology to Africa.
Science Journalism can play a vital role in demystifying scientific myths and internet rumours. For example, during the Ebola virus outbreak in Nigeria, 2014, people drank and took their bath with salt water – an act which they believe will prevent the Ebola disease, leading to the deaths of many. Science Journalists could tell the right answers and educate the public on such miscommunications.
In school, my love for science writing and communication prompted me to exchange the pipette for the pen. With motivation from my teacher, Abdulrazak Ibrahim, I wrote an article titled “Biotechnology: A Veritable tool for Agriculture in Nigeria” which was published online via Medium. A year later, the article earned me the Coordinator`s Award for Open Forum for Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa (OFAB), Nigeria Media Awards, 2018. This ignited my passion and enthusiasm for science reporting.
By the end of this century, Africa – a mesh of 54 countries will become home to 4 billion inhabitants. By 2050, the burgeoning population is expected to double. Geographically, Africa – the youngest continent in the world, bears the burden of extreme poverty which is heavily concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa. However, does Africa, appreciates the role of science and technology towards solving its contemporary challenges?
To feed this number of population, biotechnology holds the key, and the possibilities are great. Biotechnology would help to eliminate hunger and malnutrition in Africa. Furthermore, the role of science and technology for sustainable economic development cannot be overemphasised. In Africa, agriculture is the mainstay of the economy. Therefore, any improvements in agricultural productivity would directly improve the economy of the continent. Does the public appreciate how this could be realised through science?
With the above question as background, I think about the future of Africa in terms of: how do you feed the growing population? How do you adapt to climate change? And how do you eradicate poverty in the continent? As a burgeoning Science Journalist, I do not harbour in me, even an iota of doubt that science journalism will contribute immensely in the promotion of science, technology and innovation in our continent, to make Africa more food and nutrition secure.
Indeed, science and technology hold the solutions to many challenges facing Africa. However, this would only be achievable through accurate science reporting that draws support for science and scientists by the public.
Abdullahi Tsanni won the Coordinator`s Award for Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa (OFAB), Nigeria Media Awards 2018. He is a freelance science journalist and agribiotech reporter whose works have appeared on the Washington-based Genetic Literacy Project (GLP), The African Newspage and Science Communication Hub Nigeria. His interests include; biotechnology within the context of agricultural research for development (AR4D), climate change, and sustainable development goals (SDGs). He is based in Abuja, Nigeria and you can follow him on twitter @abdultsanni