Biodiversity around the world is under threat, and East Africa is no exception. The region’s rich landscape of flora and fauna faces several pressures like pollution, climate change and poaching, which in turn have consequences for people’s health, livelihoods, security and more.
Improving media coverage is crucial to addressing the problem so that communities and policymakers have the appropriate information to take action. To that end, it’s not just the journalists reporting stories about conservation issues who need a strong understanding of biodiversity. As gatekeepers of the news, the editors who assign, shape and determine how much importance to give to these stories must also deepen their knowledge and skills on the topic.
For this reason, Internews’ Earth Journalism Network (EJN) recently supported four organizations with media grants to train editors in Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda on how to better cover threats to biodiversity and the various solutions to curb these threats. The trainings, which took place from late 2022 through March 2023, were undertaken as part of the East Africa Wildlife Journalism project’s Biodiversity Knowledge Hub.
Over four training workshops, the Kenya Editors Guild, Journalists Environmental Association of Tanzania, Rwanda Environment Journalists and Water Journalists Africa trained 76 participating editors, immersing them in the biodiversity that is often overlooked in mainstream publications they and their peers helm.
In Rwanda, Nyungwe National Park, one of Africa’s oldest rainforests, played host to the workshops.
"Every living organism has a unique story to tell, and so, it's your responsibility as journalists to share these stories with the world by shining a light on the incredible diversity of life on this planet,” said Dr. Apollinaire William, a research fellow at the Center of Excellence in Biodiversity and a speaker at the training. “You have the power to inspire people to appreciate, protect, and celebrate the natural world around us.”
Participants also took multiple field trips, including daytime tours of Nyungwe National Park and Ndambarare Waterfall and a nighttime trek through the park, complete with night vision goggles in an effort to spot some of the area’s nocturnal creatures.
In Tanzania, participants gathered in Morogoro in the country’s east, where they paired classroom-style talks from experts in tourism, conservation and journalism with visits to Mikumi National Park and to an adjoining community whose members take an active role in caring for the natural resources in their midst.
"Personally, I learned a lot of things that I did not know,” Joseph Mwendapole, an editor with the news outlet Nipashe, said. “The biggest thing was how the Mikumi Reserve cooperates with the community on the edge of the reserve to protect wildlife from poaching. I was impressed by how motivated the citizens were to protect animals and steward Mikumi Park as their property.”
In Nairobi, Kenya, workshop attendees welcomed scientists and lawyers who spoke about biodiversity and sustainable development; key issues affecting biodiversity in wetlands and aquatic ecosystems; and the value chain of the country’s wildlife. The editors then left the classroom for more hands-on learning at Lake Nakuru National Park, which has been the scene of several environmental challenges of late, from rising waters, flooding and displaced residents to human-wildlife conflict and wildfires.
And in Uganda, editors came together in Kasese district, a biodiversity hot spot in the country’s west for several days of learning about biodiversity and environmental journalism. They also made several field trips to nearby natural sites, including Queen Elizabeth National Park and the Kanungu district, home to a group of former poachers who are now actively involved in environmental conservation.
Finally, the editors spent the last day pitching story ideas that Water Journalists Africa’s partner InfoNile will support with grants to develop, with additional support from TRAFFIC, a non-governmental organization working to ensure that trade in wild species is legal and sustainable for the benefit of the planet and people, under USAID’s CONNECT project, which aims to conserve natural capital and enhance collaborative management of transboundary resources in East Africa.
Editors who participated in all of the trainings largely reported through structured and unstructured feedback that their general grasp biodiversity issues had improved.
“Moving forward, I believe the knowledge and skills I gained from the course will impact my work positively,” said Annonciata Byukusenge, an editor with www.rwandanews24.rw who attended the Rwanda training. “I will be able to provide more nuanced and informed coverage of topics such as habitat loss, species extinction and conservation efforts.”
Nevertheless, the need remains for more and continuous in-depth training on the technical aspects of biodiversity, such as country-level commitments to protect it and its connection to climate change.
Toepista Nabusoba, an editor with the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation attended the Kenya training and found it enriching and informative. She said, "As the curriculum is extensive, more time is needed to interrogate the matters further.”
“This was a great opportunity to work with editors across the region and train them on the importance of covering biodiversity in their newsrooms,” said Kiundu Waweru, project manager for EJN’s East Africa project, who also led sessions on storytelling and solutions journalism at some of the trainings. “Since the inception of the project in 2019, we have concentrated on training reporters, which is important, but we realized there was a gap. It is the editors who will ultimately make decisions on how reporters' stories will be used, thus it is important to help them understand the subject matter, if we want to have results and impact.”
Banner image: David Nduwe, a park guide at the Nyungwe National Park briefing Rwandan editors before the canopy walk and the nocturnal animal trek at the Nyungwe Forest / Credit: Rwanda Environment Journalists.