Filling a Need for African-Based Reporting on Agriculture

I've been trying to read as many African newspapers as I can while traveling. In Ethiopia I read the The Herald, in Kenya, the Daily Nation, in Tanzania, The Guardian, and here in Uganda, I'm reading the Uganda Record. One thing that I've noticed in all these papers are the large number of articles on agriculture, hunger, climate change, poverty, HIV/AIDS, malaria, and water and sanitation. It's not surprising--all of these issues impact sub-Saharan Africa in a big way.

What is surprising, however, is the lack of African journalists writing these articles. Most are pulled from newswires, like Reuters and AP, or from the International Herald Tribune and UK-based papers. That means there's not only very little on-the-ground reporting from the continent, but also that the people who know best about what's really happening here aren't the ones writing about the issues.

But there are efforts underway to increase reporting about Africa from Africans. The International Center for Journalists received a $2 million grant, three-year grant in 2008 from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to improve coverage of agriculture and health. They're placing journalists from the U.S. in four key African countries--Ghana, Malawi, Tanzania, and Senegal-- where they will lead projects with African journalists, helping them improve not only coverage, but the quality of the articles they're writing. The project will also help train "citizen journalist" stringers who can relay information from the village level via cellphones.

And earlier this year, the Gates Foundation also awarded a two-year grant to the Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism to develop an intensive training program for African journalists to promote high-quality coverage of agricultural issues.

These projects could be at least partly inspired by grants the Soros Foundation and the Open Society Institute have been giving for training journalists in the former Soviet Republics and in Eastern Europe. The Independent Journalism Institute provides similar programs for journalists in Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia.

These types of grants--and hopefully future funding from other donors--are an important way of not only generating news stories, but informing African people about what's taking place on a daily basis in their own country.

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