The just concluded Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP21) has unique opportunities for journalists since various topics discussed urgently need to be communicated to the public.
“The conference offered journalists learning opportunities hence calling for their involvement because they are relied upon by populations to convey news,” the Director of Institute for Law and Environmental Governance (ILEG), Mr. Benson Ochieng says during the Kenya Science and Environment Journalist’s Association (KENSJA) first quarterly meeting in Nairobi.
Ochieng calls on science journalist associations to incorporate young journalists so that they could understand the science behind climate change to be able to report effectively.
He observes that often times, some journalists misreport on the subject hence ending up misleading populations.
Ochieng challenges Kenyan science journalists to focus on the County Governments budgetary allocation on climate change since it is to blame for food insecurity and water shortage in the country.
“The County Governments have huge allocations from the National government that they have to consider climate change as well. They have to involve climate change in all their development visions,” he adds.
Ochieng observes that science journalists need to present their articles in a easy to understand language so as to avoid confusing the populations.
“Claims that developing countries contribute to climate change effects through land use changes is true,” Dr. Mariana Rufino, a Senior Scientist Center for International Forestry (CIFOR) says.
Dr. Rufino notes that tendencies such as turning wetlands into agricultural land and deforestation are to blame for floods and drought.
She challenges journalists to highlight educative reports that could help populations change their attitude towards management of environment.
She notes that perennial floods in Kano plain and Budalangi in Western Kenya are manmade and could be avoided through massive tree planting on the highlands.
“Constriction of dykes and planting of trees along the river banks are not the solution. The problem starts from upstream and therefore interventions should be focused there,” she adds.
She notes that attempts to relocate people during rainy seasons can be avoided through a coordinated effort of all stakeholders.
According to Thomas Musandu, an economist at the State Department of Environment, the management of forests in collaboration with local communities is bearing fruit.
He observes that the government has integrated communities as way of making them own the forests and therefore avoid its massive depletion.
“Environmental issues, including climate change are being integrated in all sectors as way of creating awareness,” Musandu says.
He observes that climate change is to blame for the biodiversity loss, human wildlife conflict and pollution of rivers in the country.
“The sector has a lot of story ideas that once reported could help inform the populations to change ways that promotes climate change,” Musandu adds.
The CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) is currently scaling up climate smart villages in helping promote food security in developing countries.
Ms. Vivian Atakos, CCAFS Communication Specialist reveals that the organization is already pioneering technologies and practices that meet the needs of rural farmers.
“Our scientists are engaged in helping farmers, especially women and marginalized groups adapt to climate variability by planting crops that cope with the local climates to increase food security and generate mitigation co-benefits,” says Atakos.
She says that the approach is to help integrate most promising methods, tools and approaches for adoption by farmers in rural areas.
Atakos notes that her organization is keen in building the capacity of science journalists as partners since the collaboration is aimed at creating awareness on climate change and also changing attitude of the populations in developing countries.
According to KENSJA’s Patron Mr. Ochieng Ogodo who is also the Sub Saharan Africa Editor of SciDev.Net, there are many stories on science that when treated well could hit headlines contrary to editors and journalists belief that science are not interesting.
“It is your duty to give your best too while handling science stories so that they could help create change in the society,” Ogodo tells journalists.
Ochieng observes that there are lots of science related conferences taking place in Africa that are headline bound if edited well in newsrooms.
During the meeting, KENSJA Chairperson Ms. Rosalia Omungo calls on science based organizations to spearhead the re-training of journalists in Africa given that the continent lacks science journalism schools.
“Journalists are willing to conduct thorough investigations while developing stories but some are incapable due to the unwillingness of their media houses to carry such reports,” she says.
Omungo notes that KENSJA journalists are well versed in all areas of science and are contributing to sustaining science reports in the media in the country.