Media workshop held in London having the participants from the University College London (UCL), School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), local councils, NGOs and other organisations.  

A Media Workshop under the title of ‘Media Strategies and Mechanisms For Promoting Better Understanding of Food Security in Sub-Saharan Africa’ was held in London on February 9th  2013 at the University College London (UCL). It was a day of identifying, exploring, and addressing the myths and realities of food security in Sub-Saharan Africa and their portrayal by the UK media. The workshop was delivered by four experts – Dr. Zeremariam Fre, PENHA Director and lecturer at the University College of London (UCL), Conrad Heine, Media Officer for Somaliland Focus UK, Joseph O. Adamson, Director, Africans in London TV (AIL TV) and Bereket Tsegay, Research and Communication Officer, PENHA. 

This workshop intended to bring people’s current perceptions of food security and the way in which these perceptions are disseminated by the European media. In addressing the myths and realities of food security through the workshop, it facilitated the communication and information flow throughout young people on this topic, in hopes to encourage ambition for positive change—such as promoting and implementing sustainable agriculture techniques and policies—which would be reflected throughout their future careers. In the opening session Bereket gave a brief overview of the Food We Want project and its intended outcomes. Coming to the workshop he tried to prompt by bringing the issue of global food systems, role of the media on food security and the 'rush for breaking news'.  

Dr. Zeremariam Fre gave his presentation on the role of media and African farmers. Dr. Fre in his presentation said ‘The British and European media see Africa – with the memory of Ethiopia’s “biblical famine” of the 1980s – as a country/continent which always requires support for starving people. The “Green Revolution”, a technological and mechanised answer to these problems, is focused solely on food security. What is needed by the majority of farmers in Africa is small scale and sustainable farming. It needs food sovereignty within Africa which is dependent on peasants who know what the land will provide for them, and who have generations of experience of farming both crops and animals to depend upon. An example is the peasants in Zimbabwe have reclaimed the land which had been taken from them by the white colonial farmers and gone on to greater success than their white predecessors. However Africa is facing land grabbing on an unprecedented scale from countries like China and Saudi Arabia – which is saving water by growing its food in Sudan.

‘The place of the local media in the debate about growing food in Africa is problematic because of the way in which African governments are controlling discussion over land policy. This is also becoming true of civil society and other non-governmental organisations. In Eastern Sudan, for example, where there are people who are starving, there are also large silos of locally crown sorghum, the production of about 5,000 farmers. This grain is used for people in the big cities like Khartoum – who are potentially a more dangerous political problem – and for selling to other countries such as Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, etc. The existence of these storage silos and what they are used for are classified information.

‘However there are voices growing which represent the small farmers, the peasants, the pastoralists and other cultivators. For example, when PENHA was formed over 20 years ago, it was the only voice in East Africa which in any way represented pastoralists in the region or elsewhere. Now there are over 50. Thus, the positive role of the media to support local initiatives to have a food secure communities comes to this.’  

Conrad Heine gave a speech about his experience being an election observer in 2005 and later being involved with the press coverage of the Somaliland election in 2011 and further in 2012. He was focused on media coverage in Somaliland. In his talk he emphasised the role of media in the link it creates between the information on ground with the people in the rest of the world. He said how it is important to get a clear picture to deliver the many international audiences and in creating a smooth channel through communication strategy. He emphasised also about the role of local media in promoting the campaign and he also tried to link the success of media campaign in Somaliland to the agenda of food security.  

Joseph O. Adason (African’s London TV) gave an interesting talk on role of news and the media. Some of the key issues that were touched upon were the idea of 'news worthiness' and a critical reflection on who decides what stories make the news and why. This is an important issue when looking at the ways in which the media can reflect ideology, or shape the way in which we view issues such as food security or the development of African countries He emphasised the importance of being aware of the forces behind the news and media that we see, and not just to become passive receivers, but critical evaluators.

In the group discussion part the participants turned their attention to the role of media campaigns in tackling food issues. It was noted that African food security has often been represented negatively in the media. The impact of this has been short-term outrage and high-profile media campaigns, but they discussed the ways in which it may be possible to build a more positive image of Africa and its food system.

Some of the concluding remarks were that PENHA and other stakeholders need to make more connections within the UK to more organisations to expand the discussion of food security as an African NGO. They also raised potentials of creating a documentary or short video from PENHA in order to widen and open up the issue of food security to a wider audience. The discussion also highlighted the widened gap in conveying research results to the general public in very understandable way.

The workshop participants were from universities in London –both UCL and SOAS, local authority, non-governmental organisations and other sectors. It was very interactive and created a platform for discussion and free flow of ideas on addressing the unjust media representation of Sub-Saharan Africa food issues. The workshop was coordinated and moderated by Meije Gernez, PENHA Research Associate.