Food security and the fourth estate in Kenya’s coast
In growing a human rights movement such as the Route to Food, the media is an invaluable resource. In a context where sensationalist journalism – particularly on the topic of hunger – is common to the point where it appears as though people have become desensitised to images of starving children or dying livestock, the role of the media fraternity in bringing forward alternative narratives about chronic food insecurity is critical. The Route to Food Initiative approached bloggers and mainstream media professionals to broaden the food security discussion from one of agriculture only to the politics of food – a conversation that goes beyond the methods and modes of agricultural production to issues of accessibility, affordability and adequacy of food for all Kenyans.
Having hosted a successful session within alternative media spaces, specifically the Bloggers Association of Kenya (BAKE) in September, the Route to Food reached out to media practitioners in areas hard hit by food shortages, and met with journalists and county communication officials from coast province, in Mombasa. The two-day event that took place in October attracted 10 women and 17 men from five counties: Kilifi, Mombasa, Taita Taveta, Lamu and Malindi. Journalists were primarily from local media outlets and vernacular radio stations such as The Kilifian, The Star, Nation Media Group, The Standard, KTS TV, KBC, Citizen TV, Pwani TV, Sifa FM, Mwanedu FM, Radio Salaam, Radio Rahma, Baraka FM, Pwani Radio, Sheki FM, Bahari FM, and Pilipili FM. The main aim of the workshop was to encourage journalists to critically appraise, and therefore frequently and consistently report on chronic food insecurity – what it means in terms of food rights, what are the immediate and long-term impacts in the region and what solutions are offered.
The journalists’ voices in the food security discussion were heavily on the role of national government in agricultural production, as well as expectations of donor bodies in aid distribution, around drought-prone areas. However, Route to Food shared insights from reputable researchers Dr Timothy Njagi (Tegemeo Institute) and Dr Obuya Bagaka who is a freelance governance expert, on factors that hinder food security, beyond the (often) small-scale farming context. These include devolved county government priorities, responsibilities and plans; the media’s gaps and opportunities in the food security discourse; and the prospects of setting the media agenda on food security.
Facilitated by renowned journalist Eric Latiff, and backed up by award-winning journalist Judie Kaberia, the duo sought to encourage a change in the narrative amongst coastal reporters. The essence of spin, retelling stories from different angles and looking beyond the traditional sources of information to challenge the status quo as well as build one’s brand, were some of the key philosophies shared.
The journalists took to the two media icons like fish to water. In their assignments to present story pitch ideas, their industriousness and learning were evident. Four pitches were eventually selected for information-based support on the basis of the following criteria: story mapping, story angles, research and production, the food rights beat and broadcasting/ publication avenues. Coming from Mombasa and Kilifi counties, the Route to Food will collaborate with the winners to assist them in crafting unique stories that capture the essence of food politics and food security.
Journalism frames public knowledge – or lack thereof – about issues of food security vis-à-vis hunger, the high cost of food, poor nutrition and health, maize scandals and crop cartels, food bribes and weak political responsibility. In this context, the media plays a critical role in safeguarding public interests by actively appraising policy measures and budget decisions presented as solutions to food security, as well as holding leaders to account for promises made – particularly newly elected administrations.
“In this vein, we must remember, however, that the only way we will be heard, is if we tell tired stories with new angles and are inspired to create an impact on the reader” – Judie Kaberia.