By Wendy Mangale
Kenya Editors’ Guild members had a front row seat at an August 1 forum to enhance their understanding of new agricultural technologies and their impact on food security. They interacted with scientists who expressed concern on Africa’s slow adoption of biotechnology, which they blamed on lack of political goodwill and the propagation of mis/disinformation.
Dr. Canisius Kanangire, of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation, was pointed in his analysis of the issue, saying that misinformation and disinformation had clouded public perception, leaving people uncertain about the safety of products of such technologies, specifically GMOs.
“This has become more pronounced in Kenya following the Cabinet’s decision to lift the GMO ban and allow for cultivation of GM maize,” said Dr.Kanangire whose organisation co-convened the forum with KEG.
On food security, he said it remained a significant global concern, while acknowledging the media’s paramount role in sharing accurate information, particularly in agricultural technologies like biotechnology, including genetic modification and gene editing.
He said his organisation focused on promoting reliable and accurate information to enable the media to frame stories and educate the public on topics of widespread interest in agriculture that also require specialised expert knowledge such as GMOs, and other emerging innovations in food production.
Further, Dr. Canisius drew the editors attention to what he referred to as compelling stories of farmers using GM crops. “A case point is the recent case of Bt cotton farmers in Kenya and the much older case of Bt maize in South Africa where clear benefits have been demonstrated, “he said, adding that “the levels of doubt and fear have reduced by the evidence of safety and efficacy.”
Prof. Richard Oduor, Chairman of the Kenya University Biotechnology Consortium (KUBICO) and the Ag registrar research and innovation, explained that genetic modification had been used in plant breeding for nearly three decades, resulting in benefits such as a reduction of pesticide use, crops with an improved nutritional profile and fewer health concerns, and crops that provide environmentally friendly industrial raw materials.
Prof. Oduor spoke during the Kenya Editors’ Guild and African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) breakfast briefing on biotechnology awareness at the Serena hotel, Nairobi. The forum aimed at enhancing the understanding and reportage of ag-biotechnology.
“Previously,” he said, insulin was extracted from pigs for diabetes treatment, resulting in significant pig fatalities and posing religious concerns. Now, biotechnology enables the production of genetically modified insulin without concerns about its adverse effects on humans.”
KEG member Macharia Gaitho lamented that there had been a constant narrative that blames the Kenyan media for misinformation and propaganda. “This is a misleading and erroneous narrative. Before you accuse the media of misinformation, be sure to give information that is simple and easy to understand.”
He advised scientists to understand how the media works. “The problem with scientist is that they do not know how to communicate. They are too technical. If you communicate better, you will be listened to. Do not descend to shooting the messenger,” he added.
KEG CEO Rosalia Omungo said that the organisation was elated to start the journey of collaboration with AATF in demystifying the subject for more accurate reporting in the media. “The media is interesting when it comes to story development, especially in science and technology,” she said.
KEG President Zubeida Koome confirmed the evolution of media, expanding beyond business and politics to include dedicated science desks in leading media houses.