Renevlyn Development Initiative

Media training raises questions about gene drives in Africa

Journalists in Nigeria have been encouraged to equip themselves intellectually to be able to report the gene drives push of research organisations that target Africa and its people as guinea pigs.

This charge was the main thrust of the Journalism Training on Reporting Gene Drives which was organized by Renevlyn Development Initiative (RDI) on Friday 22 March 2024 with journalists from major news outlets in the country in attendance.

Philip Jakpor, Executive Director of RDI

Executive Director of RDI, Philip Jakpor who threw the event open said that in conceiving the training the organization realized that the media is key not only in keeping the public informed but also in exposing and interrogating initiatives and innovations that are extraneous to Africans and African culture as part of its watchdog role. 

Jakpor noted that RDI is not averse to technology or innovation as long as they are rooted in facts, the promotion of African culture, are indigenous and protect the people from manipulation in all forms. He went on to say that there is a new form of colonialism that targets altering food, food systems and nature as a whole.

He revealed that gene drives are being experimented already in Uganda, Ghana, and in Burkina Faso where in 2019 sterilized mosquito were released. He alerted that Nigeria, with its huge population of more than 230 million people is a potential testing ground for gene drives.

In his presentation on Communicating the Jargon of Science, Managing Director of EnviroNews, Michael Simire explained that science journalism covers subjects such as biotechnology, climatology, meteorology, global warming and the environment. It also extends to health, drugs, chemicals, agriculture, space exploration, as well as oil and gas exploration and oceans, rivers and marine ecosystems among others.  

He explained that in the identified areas there are jargons such as DNA the acronym for DeoxyriboNucleic Acid or PCR which is Polymerase Chain Reaction and Streptococcus which is essentially a bacteria and Apoptosis the jargon for cell death, among others.

He went on to advice that to write a good science news, the journalist must use simple language and avoid the jargon and technical terms to a large extent so as not to put the readers off.  He stressed that jargon makes information difficult to understand and prone to misinterpretation. Giving an example, he said that rather than use carcinogenic, the journalist should use cancer-causing.  He urged journalists to make use of real-life examples to write science news to help the audience understand what is being explained and make it relatable.

Diego Barcena Menendez, an ecological farmer

In his presentation on Gene Drives: What is it all about? Diego Barcena Menendez, an ecological farmer and former molecular scientist introduced the participants to the world of CRISPR, a family of DNA sequences found in the genomes that are used to detect and destroy DNA from similar bacteriophages during subsequent infections.

Menendez explained that DNA is a set of instructions for all living organisms that are not linearly arranged but packed into Chromosomes. There are 23 in humans and six in mosquitoes. He revealed however that the process may lead to unintended consequences and that this possibility has continued to dog experiments on sterilizing mosquitoes or inserting genes that can make them susceptible to insecticide which are being carried out in Africa.

Barbara Pilz, campaigner with Save Our Seeds

Taking the discussion from there in her presentation on Behind the scenes of gene drives, Barbara Pilz, campaigner with Save Our Seeds said that the political issues around gene drives are discussed mainly at the UN Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) and International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in addition to some national governments.

Barbara pointed out that signatories to the UN CBD meet every two years at the Conference of Parties (COPs) meeting to discuss latest developments.  In between the COPs there are intersessional meetings to discuss specific topics and work on text. In some cases an Ad Hoc Technical Expert Group might be put in place to support the process in certain subjects.

She related that text and recommendations are discussed, modified and approved during COPs and what is agreed becomes a new guideline or duty for the countries.

Barbara Ntambirweki of the AfriTAP/ETC Group

Barbara Ntambirweki of the AfriTAP/ETC Group in her presentation on Africa’s Concerns about gene drives argued that although regulations are yet to be put in place globally, the most advanced projects are aimed at malaria interventions, with some African countries in Ghana, Burkina Faso, Tanzania and Uganda.

Ntambirweki who is also Civil Society Digital Practitioner, Stanford University, said that Uganda has one of the highest global burden of malaria cases, with over 90% of the population at risk. In that country malaria remains the leading cause of death, especially in children.

Uganda has one of the highest global burden of malaria cases, with over 90% of the population at risk, malaria remains Uganda’s leading cause of death, especially in children.

She revealed that the Target Malaria Research consortium intends to undertake open releases of gene drive mosquitoes that will, apparently, reduce the population of the female anopheles mosquito and the mosquito population and reduce malaria transmission and disease. She however argued that there is lack of transparency about ongoing trials taking place.

Her findings also show unethical experiments going on where communities are paid to expose their legs to biting mosquitoes could be captured.

According to her, Nigeria which has the highest malaria rate globally may be a potential target for the experiments on the continent hence the media has to spotlight the ethical questions that the research organizations will prefer to hide.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top