Kenya hopes to host Africa’s first World Conference of Science Journalism

August 22, 2012


Maina Waruru
Freelance journalist, SciDev.Net

Kenya’s science journalism body, the Media for Environment, Science, Health and Agriculture (MESHA) will bid to host the 2016 World Conference of Science Journalism (WCSJ), in partnership with the African Federation of Science Journalists.

The body will be seeking support from WCSJ affiliate bodies in its bid to host the event in Kenya. If successful, this would be the first time the conference is staged in Africa.

MESHA Kenya chair Violet Otindo told delegates at the official opening of the African Science Journalist Conference (ASJC) on Tuesday night that the experiences gained from hosting the first ever ASJC had given them enough courage to bid for the global event.

“The fact that we have successfully hosted the ASJC event, the first ever on the African continent, has given us enough confidence to bid for the world event,” she said. “We do not feel the event will be any different from what we are hosting today – the only difference is that the world conference will be much bigger,” she added.

Press conference in Kenya. Photo credit: Commonwealth Secretariat, flickr

Kenya’s minister for Higher Education, Science and Technology, Margaret Kamar, said the Kenyan government will support Kenya’s bid to host the event, saying that such a move would put the country and Africa’s science journalism on the world map.

“I’m assuring you of my personal and government support in seeking to host the event, and indeed we will support you in whichever way we can,” said the minister when she officially opened the ASJC in Kenya’s Rift Valley town of Nakuru.

With over 100 journalists present, enthusiasm for the bid spread quickly. Former BBC Africa editor and Knight Journalism fellow Joseph Warungu said that Africa must not again miss the chance to host the event.

“We feel the 2011 WCSJ was a missed opportunity for Africa and this time we must make sure we succeed,” he said.

The last WCSJ event was staged in Doha, Qatar after it was moved from Cairo, Egypt at the last minute following political upheavals in the north African country. Next year’s conference will be hosted by Finland.

This blog post is part of our Africa Science Journalists Conference 2012 blog, which takes place 20-23 August in Nakuru, Kenya. To read news and analysis on science journalism please visit our website.

Just how inclusive is ‘Future Earth’?

March 28, 2012

Aisling Irwin

Aisling Irwin
Consultant news editor, SciDev.Net

Future Earth is a vast plan to draw together the big international global change research programmes, and funders, together, to deliver, as ICSU president Yuan Tseh Lee (interviewed here) says, “action-oriented research that society really needs”.

Anyone uneasy at how pratical, inclusive and nimble this behemoth of a collaboration can be (read our latest story on Future Earth here) was invited to a Town Hall session last night, to quiz Future Earth’s behemoth of a transition team.

One worry was how Future Earth would ensure it didn’t just “recycle basic knowledge and not actually be able to generate action”.

The reply was that, as agencies like UNEP are part of the collaboration, it would be forced to stay “action-oriented”.

But most of the questions probed just how inclusive this project, which aims to include just about everyone in setting its research goals and implementing them, will really be. The most upset member of the audience was a biological scientist who felt Future Earth was being driven by the climate and geosciences communities. Emphatically not, said the panel — we have DIVERSITAS, the biodiversity people, on board for a start.

Also: yes – there would be engineers; yes — humanities (there’s an environmental historian on the team); yes – a goal is to recruit and empower scientists from developing countries; yes – social scientist involvement is absolutely critical.

But it’s proving hard, said a member of the transition team, to persuade the last group to join.

There was really only one question that stumped the team: How will you know if you have succeeded?

The team had no answer to this question of metrics, which could be problematic if soliciting funds from outcome-obsessed funders like the UK’s Department of International Development.

But it felt like Future Earth has won the greater argument – that researchers need, urgently, to find out what the outside world needs from them and then pool their frames of reference to deliver it.
This blog post is part of our Planet Under Pressure 2012 coverage — which takes place 26–29 March 2012. To read news and analysis from the conference please visit our website.

Nigeria’s forestry research wins a UNESCO prize

November 19, 2011

Clerodendrum globuliflorum: plenty to conserve in Nigerian forests (Flickr/Scamperdale)

The Forestry Research Institute of Nigeria was awarded the Sultan Quaboos Prize for Environmental Preservation 2011, administered through UNESCO,  at the World Science Forum in Budapest this week (17-20 November).

The award recognises contribution to the preservation of the environment, especially though scientific research, education, training and awareness-raising; as well as through establishing and managing protected nature areas.

The prize jury recommended the institute for its contributions to forest and environmental management, biodiversity conservation, sustainable food production for food security and provision of industrial raw materials and employment opportunities.

The institute, headquartered in Ibadan, is the only forestry research institute in the country. It has ten stations and four training colleges.

Through its research it has helped with the adoption of various indigenous and exotic tree species for planting them, for a variety of purposes, throughout the country, and it has helped discover how to regenerate exploited forests. Its research also helped develop processes for turning wood waste into useful products; jatropha seeds for biofuels; and technologies against desertification and soil erosion.

Irina Bokova, director general of UNESCO, who awarded the prize, said that “our relationship with forests is essential and primordial”. She reminded the participants of the forum that the UN designated 2011 ‘year of the forests’.

Madhia Ahmed Al-Shaibani, Minister of Education of Oman and Chair of the Omani National Commission for Education, Culture and Science said: “We hope that the international experience and scientific knowledge attracted by this award contribute to providing an understanding of the environmental risks associated with development and to the adoption of successful practices to reduce the environmental challenges facing our world today, including those emanating from climatic changes.”

The prize is given at major scientific meetings every two years to individuals or institutes. Previous winners included the Ecology Institute A.C. of Mexico, the Center for Ecology in Venezuela, and the Institute of Biodiversity Conservation in Ethiopia.

Mićo Tatalović, deputy news editor, SciDev.Net


News story from the conference: Complex Islamic response to evolution emerges from study

June 29, 2011

T. V. Padma

Credit: WCSJ

29 June 2011 | EN

The Muslim world stands at a unique moment in its relation to evolutionary theory, according to the co-author of a major survey into attitudes towards evolution among Muslims around the world.

Acceptance of evolution varies widely across the Islamic world, demonstrating that stereotypical ideas about Islam and evolution are wrong, said Salman Hameed, director of the Centre for the Study of Science in Muslim Societies (SSiMS) at Hampshire College, United Sates.

But ideas are being moulded now, he said, because of new phenomena such as mass education, migration and access to the Internet.

Full news story here

Sustainability science: Pacific Science Congress 2011

June 13, 2011

Credit: PSC

Researchers from all over the Pacific region are gathering in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, this week (14–17th June) for the 22nd Pacific Science Congress.

Held every four years, Pacific Science Congresses, organised by the Pacific Science Association (PSA) are an opportunity for scientists in the region to get together — particularly important for those that live and work on in small Pacific island states.

The PSA aims to facilitate science that addresses the main problems in the region and the ambitious theme for this congress is “Asia Pacific Science in the 21st Century: Meeting the Challenges of Global Change”. In his welcome message on the congress website, PSA president Congbin Fu boils this down to ‘sustainability science’ — figuring out how the needs of the present can be met without compromising the future.

PSA defines the Pacific region as “all countries and islands within and bordering the Pacific Ocean”, but sharing an ocean doesn’t mean sharing sensibilities, so hopefully there will be a lot of lively debate about how the countries of the Pacific region can meet 21st century challenges, from the changing climate and deteriorating ecosystems to emerging infectious diseases. And with a membership diverse enough to include the United States and the small Pacific islands states, differences of opinion are bound to crop up.

Through this discussion should come new collaborations, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for new connections in the Pacific science network, both between different countries but also different disciplines — vital in a field “defined by the problems it addresses rather than by the disciplines it employs”.

The organisers have set themselves no mean challenge — we’ll see over the next few days how successful they are.

Katherine Nightingale, South-East Asia news editor, SciDev.Net

The higher they rise, the harder they find it to collaborate

February 11, 2011

Experts in the fields of of agriculture, nutrition and health need to collaborate beyond conferences. Credit:IFPRI

I thought they worked together easily. But the further they climb the academic ladder and the more responsibilities they take on, the scarcer their interactions become.

And nothing, at this meeting, illustrated it as vividly as today’s session on Addressing Agriculture-Associated Diseases.

This international conference, organised by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), is aimed at initiating conversations between experts in agriculture, nutrition and health, since they have complementary roles. Rajul Pandya Lorch, of IFPRI, calls it finding synergies for the three to leverage agriculture, nutrition and health.

“Our experience is that farmers appreciate collaboration but scientists work in isolation,” said Kabba Joiner, a health consultant from Burkina Faso.

There are few areas where experts work together. Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India, taught me that one of them is in climate change.

“This is one of the few areas with a multi-sectoral approach,” he said.

John McDermott, deputy director general for research at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), says that disciplines only come to consensus when there is a serious crisis. Then, you see some semblance of collaboration. Otherwise, in normal, day-to-day activities, even within an institution, it is difficult to find it.

Very few research institutions, he said, share facilities. They are full of compartmentalisation. “From the young at universities we need to get people out of their silos. The young also quickly learn to pick it up,” said McDermott, adding “we are best friends at big meetings like this but then it ends there”.

Even with intradepartmental collaborations, like those between malaria, TB and HIV/AIDS departments in the ministry of health, working together is like undertaking the energy-sapping stunt of climbing a tall mountain from the rear, according one delegate from Ghana.

“The higher you go, the more impossible working together becomes,” he said. That is the dilemma that experts in agriculture, nutrition and health face – yet their roles are complementary.

Dominique Charron, Programme leader at the International Development Research Centre, prays that experts will change from collaborating only at meetings.

McDermott finds few successes, among them the 2008 avian flue pandemic when animal and human health experts came together. But still, he says, it is doable

Ochieng’ Ogodo, Sub-Saharan Africa News Editor, SciDev.Net

Minority report

October 19, 2010

Women in a lab (Flickr/Argonne National Laboratory)

At the registration counter for the 21st General Meeting of the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World (TWAS), in Hyderabad, India, this morning, a young volunteer mistakenly assumed that I must have come as a delegate’s spouse.

This reminded me of one of my favourite anecdotes about a French teenager’s description of a science academy as a club of old gentlemen. French physicist and former co-chair of the InterAcademy Panel, the global network of science academies, Yves Quéré wrote in Nature that the teenager unwittingly zeroed in on three problematic features of science academies: few women, few young people and their modus operandi being akin to private clubs.

Shrugging sniggers from men, I will focus on the first point: few women. At this meeting women participants form about a tenth of the entire meeting. This, some women participants assured me, is a generous estimate.

A 2004 report on science careers of Indian women, published by the Indian Academy of Sciences, says women form less than 5 per cent of fellows of each of the three major science academies in India: Indian National Science Academy, Indian Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences.

This seems reflective of the more general gender malaise. A 2006 report of the InterAcademy Council says 95 per cent of science academy members world over are men.

In the United States, the proportion of women scientists in the National Academy of Sciences is around seven per cent, and in the UK’s Royal Society only 4.5 per cent.

Recent years have seen repeated calls for more incentives for women in research.

I must say the Philippines is refreshingly ahead of India on this front. The National Academy of Science and Technology in the Philippines has had a woman head for at least two terms.

“Academies must set an example for all of the world to see of welcoming women scientists and engineers to their ranks and treating them as full partners with men,” the IAC report said four years ago.

I am not confident that the academies have taken this seriously yet.

T V Padma, South Asia Regional Coordinator, SciDev.Net

India too big for a science straight jacket?

October 18, 2010

Prithviraj Chavan (TWAS)


“India’s too big to be straight-jacketed into a single framework for science and technology [S&T],” said India’s science minister Prithviraj Chavan, in an interview for TWAS, ahead of the 21st General Meeting of the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World (TWAS), in Hyderabad, India.

Chavan said that “some areas of Indian S&T will continue to develop at a steady pace, while other areas will experience accelerated growth — at times leading to the discovery of ‘leapfrog’ technologies that will have a dramatic impact on the economy”. That would be welcome, but not quite everything.

I do not want to be a wet blanket, but somehow improvement in India’s economy has not translated into equitable growth. Chavan’s facts about seven per cent increase in India’s gross domestic product (GDP) is true. Equally true is that the country has slipped down the global hunger index (GHI), ranking 67 out of 88 nations in the 2010 report released by the International Food Policy Research Institute in October. Home to 42 per cent of underweight children under five years, the country still lags behind Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Sudan in the GHI. Maybe that is why the Indian jacket’s fit in general is not quite so good.

Even on the science front, there have been a couple of disquieting reports of late. One is about the country slipping down (and a nasty fall that too) in the technology index, though some experts did tell SciDev.Net that different methods of measuring science performance could yield a different result.

The latest Goldman Sachs report confirms India lagging on R&D intensity front. Chavan also noted the need to increase, rather double, India’s spending on research and development (R&D) from the present less than one per cent of the national wealth to two per cent. For some reason this “doubling” of India’s R&D spending, as a per cent of its GDP, has not occurred, although one has heard it often, from prime ministers, their scientific advisors and senior scientists.

On the other hand, the Research Councils of UK’s latest report, based on a survey from 1981 to 2008, says India’s scientific output is growing rapidly, and its science citation impact — a measure of how often its papers are cited by other scientists — has doubled. Although India’s share of the global output remains low, it has nevertheless, shot up fast.

That is possibly why the Indian science jacket is a bit tricky to judge at first glance.

What’s your view?

T V Padma, South Asia Regional Coordinator, SciDev.Net

TWAS comes to India

October 14, 2010

Welcome to the blog from the 21st General Meeting of the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World (TWAS), in Hyderabad, India.

So is this yet another developing countries’ meeting on their science struggles? Not exactly. The mood is upbeat, as several developing countries that have witnessed enormous changes in science since TWAS held its first meeting in Trieste in 1985 can testify.

Take Hyderabad, for example. A somewhat sedate city when TWAS was founded over two decades ago, Hyderabad today is host to cutting-edge biology institutes such as the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology and Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics; and a global biotechnology and information technology hub. Brazil, China, Rwanda and South Africa have similar success stories to tell.

TWAS meetings are changing too.

Their initial major goals were to provide a forum where scientists from the developing world could discuss critical issues of common concern and showcase their science, and to create a bridge between scientists and science policymakers.


TWAS's 1st international conference on 'South-South and South-North Cooperation in Sciences' (5-10 July 1985)


The second TWAS meeting was held in Beijing, with 150 participants from 50 countries. The Beijing meeting featured in Nature as one of a handful of scientific meetings in the second half of the 20th century that had a significant impact on scientific discourse.

TWAS 2010 will have 350 participants from 54 countries. The emphasis is shifting to strengthening the research–policy interface, expanding South-South collaboration and on the work of young scientists. There is growing concern, too, that discussions need to focus more on countries and scientists that have yet to fully participate in the growing scientific capabilities of developing countries.

India’s prime minister Manmohan Singh will open the meeting, followed by an Africa–India ministerial round table. Other key developing countries’ concerns on the agenda include tuberculosis, typhoid vaccine and zinc deficiency. And there is other exciting science stuff — I personally like the sound of munching black holes (yummy!) and growing galaxies.

SciDev.Net blog will be updating you daily,  so please watch this space.

T V Padma, South Asia Regional Coordinator, SciDev.Net

Seaweeds of Zanzibar, herbal STI treats of Samburu, Malawi’s drought proof tea

October 8, 2010

Irene Kamanja

RISE has given students an opportunity to present their work and the work is impressive.

And, indeed, the bag of research from students is mixed. One project that came up yesterday was the distribution and nutritional composition of selected sea weeds that are used as marine fishing baits in basket traps in Zanzibar.

Grace Mutia of the Western Indian Ocean Regional Initiative wants to know the nutritional properties of seaweed and why parrot fish, a common local food source, choose them. The aim is to isolate and produce a fish-attracting chemical that will reduce seaweed demand and improve the lives of local fishermen.

Irene Kamanja from the University of Nairobi, under the African Natural Products Network, wants to establish an inventory of plants and formulations used to manage sexually transmitted diseases in Kenya’s Samburu community, 324 kilometres north of Nairobi. One hopes results will come out on the efficacy and toxicity of the priority plants used by local people to treat STI’s.

Malawians can now benefit from draught tolerant tea. Pelly Malebe of the Southern African Biochemistry and Informatics for Natural Products network, at University of Pretoria told me they have managed to identify drought tolerant genes for tea grown in Malawi. Hopefully improved quality life is assured for small farmers that will replace old tea cultivars with drought.

And Secilia Ilonga of the University of Namibia hopes her research into indigenous plants compounds that can treat cancer could help bring about safe and effective treatment in future.

This is just about the briefest pick of the vast research on offer by RISE students. They deserve best wishes.

Munyaradzi Makoni is a freelance journalist

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