Alfred Friendly’s new initiative to foster excellence in specialty reporting, the Food Security Fellowship, is proving its impact through the success of inaugural Fellow Ankur Paliwal of India and this year’s Fellow, Justice Baidoo of Ghana.

In August, Paliwal had an in-depth article published in the digital magazine Undark on genetically modified orphan crops such as cowpea in West Africa that are resistant to pests and droughts.

“Frankly, this article would not have been possible without the support of Alfred Friendly,” Paliwal said.

Baidoo produced a multimedia story for the Los Angeles Times about the development in California of a drought-resistant form of an ancient grain from Ethiopia called teff. “Problems like draught, climate change and pests present a critical problem for the food system in countries like Ghana where birth rates are constantly rising,” Baidoo said. “So with or without GM we need to find a way to feed the new numbers coming in; open conversations around subjects like this is what is needed.”

 

The director of the Columbia Urban Agriculture Center explains how they provide free vegetables to the local food pantry

Paliwal will soon have his second in-depth article published in the world’s top science magazine, Scientific American, about cassava production in sub-Saharan Africa. (Scientific American measures its worldwide audience at more than 9 million. Undark is a partner digital magazine) Paliwal’s first story in Scientific American, published during his fellowship, last year, was about how global warming could cause pigs to produce less meat and make pork more expensive.

“The Alfred Friendly fellowship helped me immensely in achieving my goal of reporting and writing deep and moving stories about food insecurity in Africa,” Ankur wrote in a blog post. During the fellowship, Paliwal researched story ideas and collaborated with the Pulitzer Center’s Food Insecurity Project, which funded his two reporting trips to Africa. 

Justice Baidoo’s first story for the Times was on an ancient grain from Ethiopia being developed in California, teff 

“What makes this fellowship different from many others,” Paliwal wrote, “is that it focuses on both academic and professional training—something I was looking for after spending about nine years in journalism in India.”

During the six-month fellowships, Paliwal and Baidoo were trained by professional practice faculty at the Missouri School of Journalism to improve their reporting, writing, investigative techniques, data journalism and multimedia production skills, along with their knowledge of journalism ethics and best practices. Paliwal also met with a dozen experts in agriculture and food systems at the University of Missouri. There were discussions with sociologists, economists, policy analysts, agriculturalists, and field trips to laboratories, experimental fields and a variety of farms.

Paliwal spent nearly two weeks at the Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, to learn about scientific breakthroughs and and meet entrepreneurs at ag-tech startups. Paliwal then joined the staff at Scientific American, the oldest continuously published monthly magazine in the United States.

“Scientific American is one of the top science magazines in the world and it was a dream come true for me to work there,” Paliwal said. “I worked with brilliant editors who gave me freedom and a lot of advice on the story projects I was developing there.”

The Rationale for the Food Security Fellowship

Populations, per capita meat consumption, and climate-related problems are all growing, and pressures on natural resources are intensifying. How will the food system meet the projected 50 percent increase in demand by 2050?

After a decade of decline, hunger and malnutrition around the world are now increasing. At the same time, scientists, entrepreneurs and farmers are finding new ways to improve food production and distribution. Crop yields are growing, but that progress is confounded by problems — from climate change, warfare, and corruption to inefficient food distribution and waste. Increases in food production are common, but they often come with unsustainable costs — environmental degradation and concerns about long-term health consequences.

The news media play a key role in this paradox.

Misinformation can lead to food price volatility and poor public policy, while effective, responsible reporting on issues related to food security can draw attention to problems and solutions.  

Training reporters, editors and broadcasters to understand what constitutes ethical and effective reporting on food security issues can lead to public policy and agricultural practices that boost production, make land use more efficient and sustainable, and improve access to affordable, nutritious food.

Journalists play a critical role in disseminating accurate and reliable science information and data to policymakers, farmers and consumers. They also play a critical role in making these stakeholders aware of new plant science discoveries and successful policies and practices.

“This January,” Paliwal recounted, “I travelled to Ghana to report a story about genetically modified orphan crops such as cowpea and cooking banana which are primarily grown by small holder farmers to feed their families and communities. All these crops are badly devastated by pests in many African countries endangering food and nutrition requirements of the most poor farmers in Africa. For example, 50 to 80 percent of cowpea is destroyed every season in Ghana. There is little interest in saving orphan crops because they have less commercial value in comparison to big three — rice, wheat and maize. I looked at whether or not genetic modification of orphan crops could reduce hunger in Africa, and whether there are any mismatches between what scientists think farmers want, and what farmers really want.”

Journalists have a duty to inform the public about the impact of regulatory, policy, and shifts in the agricultural industry and economy, and their impact on food security. But to do so requires significant understanding of complicated dynamics involving science and technology. Too often, news articles related to food security over rely on people representing special interests and under-report objective information and legitimate, peer-reviewed research. 

For 34 years, Alfred Friendly Press Partners has been improving newsrooms around the world by training journalists to practice journalism that is ethical, innovative and influential. The nonprofit organization has expanded to focus on training journalists to become specialists in reporting on food security issues. The first two Food Security Fellows have demonstrated that the effectiveness of this initiative.

Justice Baidoo on assignment in Ghana