Alliance for Science Fellow shines in Kenya media awards

By Rose Mukonyo

September 28, 2019

Verenardo Meeme, a science journalist and 2018 Cornell Alliance for Science Fellow Global Leadership Fellow, carried the day at the recent science journalism award ceremony in Kenya.

Meeme, a development communications specialist who also works as an independent science writer and content producer in sub-Saharan Africa, took the top award for agricultural biotechnology reporting in a competition sponsored by the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology, Kenya chapter.

Speaking during the awards, Meeme strongly advocated for more science reporting, expressing the need to empower farmers with information on how best to improve their productivity.

“We must keep on reporting on agriculture as it is the mainstay of our economy,” he said.

Meeme, who contributes news, analysis and opinion pieces to various publications in East Africa and  produces multimedia stories for the United Kingdom-based Science and Development Network, expressed his gratitude to the Alliance for Science for believing in him and giving him exceptional training.

Margaret Karembu, director of ISAAA Africenter, attended the ceremony and expressed her belief that Kenya has made tremendous progress in the research and development of biotech crops, such as the Bt cotton now undergoing National Performance Trials (NPTs), and the drought-tolerant and insect-resistant Bt maize now awaiting a license to commence NPTs.

“This would not have been possible without the input of science communicators who have made public the good work that is being done by scientists here in Kenya,” she remarked.

Kenyan researchers are also using biotechnology to improve other crops, including gypsophila, sweet potato, cassava, sorghum and banana.

According to Karembu, OFAB Kenya has endeavored to bridge the gap between science and society by providing an opportunity for scientists, journalists, farmers, policy makers and industry to interact, network and share knowledge and information on agricultural biotechnology, resulting in better policies and evidence-based decision-making.

Harry Kimtai, principal secretary in the state department for livestock and chief guest at the OFAB awards ceremony, said he believes that Kenyan media has inspired public dialogue, thus influencing audience perception and opinion on societal issues. In particular, they are bringing science and technology to the public sphere, which has improved public awareness of innovative technologies that can improve society.

“Most importantly, balanced reporting channels all the way to decision and policy makers,” Kimtai added.

Esther Kamweru, a veteran journalist, freelance editor and media consultant who helped judge the contest, lauded the progress made in science reporting in Kenya, noting that during her time in active reporting almost 20 years ago, science journalism was a dreaded subject.

“Significant progress has been made over the years and we must therefore realize and commend that,” she asserted.

Kamweru urged the journalists not to confuse their audience by using scientific jargon and acronyms in their reporting, as farmers comprise the bulk of their audience. They must also uphold media ethics in their stories, she said.

Contest judge Martin Kiogora Mwirigi, who is a research scientist at KARLO and chair of the biotechnology technical committee at the Kenya Bureau of Standards, asked communicators to work closely with scientists in order to understand the terms used and translate them into language that everyone understands.

He also urged them not to rely on scientific information found in the digital space, as it is often misleading.

“Get the accurate information from a scientist, not what you find on the internet,” Mwirigi added.

Rose Mukonyo is a 2019 Cornell Alliance for Science Global Leadership Fellow and first runner up in last year’s OFAB media awards in Kenya.