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This year has brought more than its fair share of challenges and resulted in a lot of opportunities stifled for many. In efforts to support journalists and raise awareness about food system challenges facing countries around the world, Hivos and IIED, together with Climate Tracker, launched the Sustainable Food Media Fellowship in June 2020 to fund journalists from Kenya, Uganda, Zambia, Indonesia, and Bolivia to write stories about the production of food and access to sustainable diets in their home countries.

Over 200 journalists applied to join the fellowship and 38 were shortlisted to receive a 4-week course designed to help them gain more skills and knowledge on journalism and sustainable diets reporting. 20 journalists were eventually selected to receive the final grants and have spent 8 weeks working on their stories. Here is a summary of their work.

Africa

In Kenya, we had 4 fellows who covered a range of different but equally important topics. In the western region, thousands of small-scale farmers depend on sugarcane as their sole cash crop while missing out on important diet elements in crops like soybeans and maize. Our fellow Anthony Langat reported on the challenges facing farmers in shifting away from sugarcane production. Limited markets is another main challenge facing farmers. Our fellow Florence Gichoya showed that, as the COVID-19 pandemic was ravaging, vegetable farmers could no longer supply large quantities of produce to the market and their income was negatively affected. In response, farmers began diversifying their production and some turned to indigenous vegetables to salvage their income.

Reporting from Nairobi, Kevin Lunzalu documented how women in Kenya were diversifying family diets through climate-smart agriculture. In doing so, their activities were able to reduce agriculture-sector-led emissions. Finally, our fellow Lydia Naywira wrote about goat milk and how dairy goat farmers hang on to hope as processing remains elusive.

sustainable food
Credit: Lydia Naywira

In Zambia, we had 5 fellows. Raphael Banda’s story dealt with conservation agriculture and highlighted that while the government has been promoting it, most farmers were not yet adopting conservation farming methods. Ubwiza Chiyungi looked into the importance of upscaling cassava farming in Zambia as a means of adapting to the impacts of climate change on agriculture.

Natasha Sakala, Mirriam Chabala, and Shola Precious all focused on COVID-19 and its dire impacts on the food chain in Zambia. Mirriam’s story highlighted how people there were forced to revert to their traditional food and as such have realized the importance of eating locally produced traditional food. Shola found that many food traders have received minimal to no support in their businesses: even those who knew of the government support weren’t eligible to apply for it. Natasha spoke to civil society movements in Zambia, who voiced their concerns about how the pandemic is limiting food diversity because the high prices are pushing people to consume mostly maize-based mono-diets.

Credit: Shola Precious

While in Zambia the COVID-19 pandemic opened an opportunity for people to explore indigenous traditional food, in Uganda, Juliet Luwedde documents a nation facing acute hunger due to the disruptions caused by the pandemic. The lockdown restrictions put in place to limit the spread of the coronavirus have limited the farmers’ ability to move and as such their productivity was greatly impacted.

Also in Uganda, John Agaba’s story focused on how the informal food market promoted the consumption of unhealthy foods. The story traces the food chain and notes that the type of food served in informal food stalls would have been produced through unsustainable practices.  Richard Drasimaku photo-documented how South Sudan refugees and their hosts in Uganda have started to intercrop as a means to sustain diets and provide income.

Bolivia

The Bolivian highlands are one of the main sources of global agrobiodiversity, with highly resilient crops that have long been a fundamental part of local diets. However, the intensification of large-scale agriculture in recent years has affected the territories, as well as the eating habits of Bolivians.

The recent Covid-19 crisis, which has deeply impacted the country, has fed on the vulnerabilities of the population and has put food systems at risk, mainly affecting small producers and informal markets.

Through the Sustainable Diets fellowship, we have worked with four Bolivian journalists on as many stories that reflect some of the major food challenges the country is facing.

Esther Mamani traveled to the region of Los Yungas to tell the story of 120 women who decided to change the monoculture of coca (typical Bolivian and highly damaging to soils) for an agroecological production of honey from “limoncitos” bees that resist the fumigations of coca production.

Credit: Esther Mamani

Andrés Rodríguez thoroughly investigated one of the most controversial issues in Bolivia: The promotion of transgenic seeds by the last two national administrations and how a community of corn producers from the upper valley of Cochabamba resists their introduction.

Rocío Corrales decided to tell the story of a typical but relatively unknown food in Bolivia: Tarwi. She investigated in depth its production and verified how tarwi can benefit the production of produce such as potatoes and quinoa by up to 50%. She traveled to Anzaldo, in the inter-Andean valley of Cochabamba, to learn about the history of women that, through the resilience of Tarwi, show their concern and care for sustainable agriculture.

Credit: Esther Mamani

Karen Gil traveled to La Paz highlands to tell the story of local producers and the odyssey they must undertake in these times to produce and distribute the food that supplies the populous cities of La Paz and El Alto. Her work focuses on following the producer families and the way that they make tubers and cereals to reach the city.

Indonesia

Indonesia has been facing major problems in terms of food security and sustainable diets due to climate change and the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic. Four journalists from Indonesia wrote in-depth stories about these issues and their potential solutions, including reutilizing local and traditional crops.

Agus Mawan reported on how indigenous communities in West Sulawesi have a secret weapon to reduce their dependencies on rice: jewawut or foxtail millet. Nowadays, they only eat jewawut during traditional rituals. However, for their ancestors, the seeds were a daily source of food. It also has richer nutritional values than other crops; an advantage as the main food source.

From Central Java, Siti Isnawati reported on the potential of sorghum that has been planted for ages in the Demak regency. Sorghum might become an answer for people in the province looking for a climate-resistant crop as some variants of the crops can be planted in both dry and rainy seasons. Sorghum also contains richer nutritions compared to rice such as fibre that is good for the human digestive system.

Credit: Augus Mawan

Two other journalists are looking deeper into local-based efforts to sustain food security, as the current food supply and distribution system are prone to disruptions such as disasters and pandemic.

Luh De Suriyani from Bali looks into the Nusa Penida Island, a resort island in which residents have been struggling with the absence of tourism since the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak. Some decided to return to the field to plant crops, such as seaweed and corn. These are not easy, since people had to face geographical and financial challenges in starting farming.

Credit: Luh De Suriyani

Meanwhile, Togar Harahap looks into how people living in Tangerang — located from the country’s capital of Jakarta — started community farms and gardens to entertain themselves and support their household amid the pandemic. Most of the farmers are women working in factories or housewives who spare their free time to grow food for their communities or to be sold.

Header photo: Mary Abawu at her garden laden with variety of crops on small sub plots near her home (Credit: Richard Drasimaku)

This article originally appeared on the Climate Tracker website: https://climatetracker.org/sustainable-food-media-fellowship-promoting-food-and-agriculture-stories-around-the-world/