ANTANANARIVO, MADAGASCAR -- As part of a new project to improve biodiversity and agriculture science reporting within the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC), a group of 11 press officers were trained last month (24–25 May) in Mauritius.
The press officers come from the agriculture ministries of the IOC islands — Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius, Réunion and the Seychelles — as well as Zanzibar.
The training programme is just one component of a wider initiative — launched in 2010 — to highlight environmentally-friendly agricultural practices in this biodiversity-rich region. Other activities include the launch of the online Indian Ocean Biodiversity & Agriculture portal, in December 2011.
These activities follow the endorsement of environmentally-friendly policies by agricultural communities in the IOC, as agreed in 2010 through the Regional Agro-ecology & Climate Change Initiative. The initiative is coordinated by the IOC, and funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development.
The initiative aims to improve communication on the islands and strengthen links between them, by bringing together agriculture and environment experts, researchers, decision-makers, media, and local communities.
'The objective is to underline a more sustainable agriculture, which respects the exceptional biodiversity of our islands,' Sophie Della Mussia, communication officer at the French International Cooperation Centre for Agronomic Research (CIRAD), told SciDev.Net.
Despite the region's rich biodiversity and heavy reliance on agriculture (according to CIRAD, 90 per cent of Madagascar's flora is endemic, and 80 per cent of the population relies on agriculture for food and revenues), media coverage of agriculture and biodiversity issues has been inadequate, said Della Mussia.
Providing means to incite farmers to practise environmentally-friendly agriculture could be essential to preserving the island's natural ecological richness, she added.
Della Mussia said that a new web directory was set up as part of the project to ease searching for contacts in agriculture and food industry and facilitate cooperation, and this month a group of young French journalists from Réunion will also be trained is collaboration with France Volontaires to contribute to the portal.
Solohery Randrianoelina, head of the communication at Madagascar's agriculture ministry, said agro-ecology and agrobiodiversity are now a priority for the ministry. Both refer to good practices that help farmers increase yields and adapt to climate change without harming the natural resources and reserves, he said.
Haingonirina Ioniarilala, communications officer at the same ministry and a press officer trained through the project, said the main tasks for the press officers would be to gather agro-ecology information and lead advocacy campaigns.
A highlight of the project was its successful strengthening of links between IOC members, so that they were able to share good farming practices and bolster the region's agriculture sector, Ioniarilala said.
The main challenges will be using web-based media to connect with rural farmers, who were often illiterate, or do not have Internet access due to poor levels of connectivity, she added.