Monday, 14 June 2010

To most Journalists Brown Envelope comes first

I have often asked the question; how can small scale farmers be supported to build resilience and effectively respond to the devastating effects of climate change in Nigeria? It is very common to accuse the government or to identify government’s failure. Most people generally fail to remove the peck from their own eyes. My experiences while working with Journalists in recent times has not really been encouraging. Pro-poor activities and programs being carried out by local and sometimes cash strapped organisations are under-reported because those in charge of news packaging i.e. the journalists have become money mongers; and this has been largely responsible for the wide publicity being given to political events and politicians because those are where the money is. They can easily pay, and of course pay well. I am saying this because it is already a threat to development in Africa.

In making a case for small scale farmers, I strive to show that they constitute a large portion of extant poor farmers in Nigeria and elsewhere. In an analysis of those most at risk from climate change, the Environment and Urbanization journal had identified poor people as most vulnerable as they are least able to avoid the direct or indirect impacts of climate change by for example, having no irrigation facilities in their farms; living in poorly built homes, living in neighbourhoods without drainage systems that prevent flooding, and have limited options to expand their livelihood activities etc. In contrast, wealthy individuals can effectively reduce these risks by having safer housing, have irrigation facilities or rainwater harvesting structures, have insurance, live in good neighbourhoods and have variety of livelihood options etc. But then, how many of us ever give a thought to such concerns. It remains to be seen, how privileged people really appreciate the plight of the poor. The British Prime Minister Gordon Brown had said, and I agree perfectly with him that the wealthy would always be able to look after themselves; and that it was people at the other end of the economic scale i.e. the poor that the government ought to be helping.

Rural Africa Water Development Project (RAWDP) in order to support small holder rice farmers designed a project to support those in Uboma, a rural farming community in Ihitte/Uboma local government area of Imo State, Nigeria. The community is noted for its lowland rice fields, the biggest in the entire state. Rice here are transplanted or seeded directly in the soil on level to slightly sloping fields with variable depth and duration of flooding depending on rainfall. Most of these farms are located mainly along the flooded valleys of the Imo River. Most of the rice farms are privately owned as they are cultivated in private family lands. Rice farmers tend to be small-scale, with farms of 1-2 ha. Today changing climatic conditions has resulted to harvest shrinkage and diminishing income. The aims to improve hundreds of hectares of land in this rural community through the strengthening of the links between Rainwater Harvesting and Soil and Water Conservation within an integrated water resources management (IWRM). This is being done through media exposure series that highlights agronomic, vegetative, structural and management measures that control soil degradation and enhances productivity in the field, and the training of thousands of local farmers to undertake integrated watershed development based on rainwater harvesting and soil conservation for the regeneration and sustainable management of their farmlands. In doing this, the project is courageously planting trees, and plans to document and disseminate best practices on soil and water conservation. The implementation strategy for the project is basically an interactive landscape learning process, which consists of interactive farm visits; focus group/communal television watching and discussions sessions etc. But what is happening now is frustrating. Most of the journalists engaged are only keen on money. They insist on ‘’cash and carry reporting’’ i.e. you have to pay them up front before they publish or use your story (otherwise known as BROWN ENVELOPE). This has imposed a heavy cash toll on the project and threatening its sustainability. Journalist, of course not all of them as there are great ones amongst them now give you a bill before the publish you. They accuse you of being stingy with donor funds, and insist you must give them their won share of the large. They have the firm believe that all local projects have a great infusion of foreign support, of which they must get their share. That is the sorry pass we now live in.

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