July 19, 2024


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Rwandan Journalists Equipped with Biotechnology Literacy to Combat GMOs Misconceptions

Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB), in collaboration with the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AAFT), offered an insightful two-day workshop to Rwandan journalists on reporting science that critically highlighted the need for key fact-checking criteria and benefits while reporting on agricultural biotechnology.

Titled “Science Communicating Capacity Strengthening Workshop for Rwandan Journalists,” the workshop emphasized the importance of agricultural science literacy for journalists to engage actively in reporting agricultural biotechnology trends, including the controversial topic of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).

It encouraged journalists to rely on evidence-based information for adhering to accuracy and engaging with the scientific community.

While among the key challenges to the Rwandan agricultural sector are low productivity, climate change, post-harvest loss, and lack of access to finance, adopting agricultural biotechnology can boost value addition, foster the path to food security, and improve livelihoods in Rwanda.

The workshop highlighted some of the persistent myths and misunderstandings surrounding biotechnology. Journalists play a critical role in ethically disseminating evidence-based information by sourcing facts from reliable and repeatable sources such as researchers and other experts in the field, according to speakers.

“Journalists are not limited to teasing out information only from researchers but should also tease out it from other actors such as policymakers and academia and try to ask about current trends and other questions to be answered.” Said Eugenia Abu, a seasoned Nigerian news broadcaster.

Given that agriculture accounts for 30% of Rwanda’s economy, the adoption of biotechnology, including GMO crops, was underscored as a potential solution to address the pressing challenge of food shortages in African countries. However, the skills gap in reporting science stories was identified as a significant issue.

This gap can hinder the potential benefits of GMO technology and perpetuate misunderstandings about the advantages of GMO adoption.

Journalists learnt about the distinction between morals and ethics and how it is manifested in the media. It was claimed that journalists could include their personal opinions in their articles instead of seeking facts from experts and relevant policymakers.

“It is important to understand the role of journalists in knowledge dissemination and sieve unverified information before publishing media stories,” said Venerardo Meeme, an award-winning journalist and development communicator who shared insights in the workshop.

According to Tom Peterson, an American Misinformation Crisis Analyst, although traditional news outlets don’t typically twist the facts, they report the world of political leaders who do shade the truth—over 80% of false claims are disseminated without mentioning that they are inaccurate.

With training in ‘Basic Science Journalism,’ journalists learnt to synthesize technical information into human-interest stories, making science more accessible to the public. It called for the vitality of government institutions, NGOs, and other stakeholders to engage journalists in training programs. The programs equip journalists with a comprehensive understanding of various topics, enabling cutting-edge reporting.

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