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[GRAHAMSTOWN, SOUTH AFRICA] A two-year programme has been launched to build the capacity of science journalists and improve science coverage in Africa.

It was launched this month (1 September), recognising the important role of science journalism in promoting Africa’s socioeconomic development.

The project is being funded by the African Academy of Sciences (AAS) with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and in partnership with the African Federation of Science Journalists (AFSJ) and the South African Science Journalists Association, according to Deborah-Fay Ndlovu, the project’s manager and the communication manager of AAS, who did not disclose the total funding for the project.

The project will focus on AAS’ strategic focus areas including health and wellbeing, climate change, food security and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). It will target journalists from Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal and South Africa in the first phase.

“Not many African science journalists have the capacity to write good articles, hence they require hand-holding”

Deborah-Fay Ndlovu

After the project’s successful implementation in the four countries, it will be opened to more countries in Africa such as Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

Ndlovu tells SciDev.Net that most publications in Africa are closing due to insufficient funding, and few focus on science: “This makes many science stories not to be published in African media houses.”
“Not many African science journalists have the capacity to write good articles, hence they require hand-holding,” adds Ndlovu.

Through the project, journalists will be mentored in science reporting by senior science journalists in Africa, and in the rest of the world, to refine and improve their pitches, help them build stories and write credible articles.
“This will contribute to the quality of science reporting in Africa, hence creating an impact to the society and [it will] increase awareness,” Ndlovu explains.

Mandi Smallhorne, president of the AFSJ and an executive board member of the World Federation of Science Journalists, says strong science journalism is essential to development and democracy in Africa: “Science is a foundation stone of development, but if people don’t fully understand it, they can’t make voting choices that will support wise development.”

The challenges and the opportunities that face African countries today and in the foreseeable future are in many ways science-related. “We need journalists who are able to read and interrogate scientific papers, and … interview scientists and retell their stories so that lay audiences can understand them,” notes Smallhorne.

She added that science journalists are key to helping people understand many issues including climate change impacts, the causes of fatal mudslides such as the recent one in Sierra Leone, new seed technologies, renewable energy choices or epidemics.

Smallhorne urges African governments to support science journalists because they can help boost African science by turning the spotlight on research being conducted on the continent.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.