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Why smart people need smarter reporters who dig deeper

Journalists inform. They cannot communicate sensibly what they do not understand. If the journalist does not research the facts, package and present them accurately and clearly, the audience is confused. And the journalist fails.

The Star reporter Agatha Ngotho secured an interview with Agriculture CS Peter Munya. Good work. Getting an interview with a CS in Kenya is not “a walk in the park” (another favourite expression in Nairobi journalism). Ngotho’s story appeared under the heading, “Aflatoxin drug is not helping farmers – CS” (August 31, p.11).

Munya said farmers were facing a big problem with aflatoxin contamination. The dangerous toxin found in soil and poorly dried grain finds its way into many segments of the food chain and can cause serious illnesses.

The Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) has developed an antidote, Aflasafe KE01 that is effective in controlling aflatoxin.

“Unfortunately, that product was leased out to a private company that doesn’t seem to have the ability to quickly provide it to the public for utilization. We are looking for a way in which we can make the product readily available to the farmer to improve the quality of maize,” Munya said, according to The Star.

Wait, this is serious. A government agency developed a product to help farmers and the country but that product was reportedly handed over to a private entity and now farmers cannot access it. What happened exactly? Isn’t this a big story?

“The CS said the government is coming up with different interventions to address the problem, among them improving drying facilities within the country,” the paper reported.

Does that mean the government has given up on Aflasafe KE01, the product developed by KALRO? For what reasons? These questions did not bother reporter Ngotho and her editors at Lion Place.

Two days later, another story by Ngotho appeared in The Star headlined, “Aflatoxin control product available to farmers at Sh201 a kilogramme”.

Farmers could buy Aflasafe, which the CS reportedly said was not available, from the NCPB stores across the country, the report said.

“Charles Macharia, the general manager at Koppet Biological Systems Limited, yesterday said farmers can buy Aflasafe from the nearest agro-dealers, especially in Eastern Kenya where the short-rains period is the main planting season,” The Star reported.

Koppet is an international biological crop protection company that was awarded the contract late last year to market Aflasafe in Kenya, the report said.

So, why did CS Munya say the private company that KALRO gave Aflasafe to distribute had failed to do so? What were the terms of the contract? The CS said the product was “leased” to Koppet. Why did he say farmers could not access Aflasafe if, indeed, the product, according to the distributor, is available everywhere in the country? What is going on? What do the farmers say about the availability of the product?

Neither reporter Agatha Ngotho nor her editorial bosses at Lion Place seemed interested in these crucial questions.

What are the “smart people” who read The Star supposed to understand from such woefully inadequate reporting?

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