Fellowship for African journalists

Storytelling against desertification

On the occasion of the UN conference UNCCD COP 15 in Abidjan, the Robert Bosch Stiftung provided African journalists with a virtual scholarship to report on the fight against land degradation on the continent. Here are the best stories at a glance.

Tobias Moorstedt
Getty Images (4), Busani Bafana

Perhaps the most important news about the UN Conference to Combat Desertification UNCCD COP 15, which took place in Abidjan in May, is that it barely featured in the European or American media. If you search the archives of the New York Times for the terms "desertification," "Abidjan" or "COP15" – the signatory states of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) met for the fifteenth time – you get exactly zero hits. On the Süddeutsche Zeitung website, you will find just two short news agency articles. And media companies in other regions, such as Africa, often do not have the resources to send reporters to such global forums or to give their complex topics prominent billing.

And yet there is much to report: 70 percent of the land that humanity needs for its survival is threatened by desertification. More than two billion people live in arid regions. Among other things, the conference in Abidjan presented the UNCCD report Drought in Numbers 2022: According to the report, the number and duration of droughts worldwide has increased by 29 percent since 2000.

In order to bring the perspectives of particularly affected countries in Africa into the debate on desertification, the Robert Bosch Stiftung offered virtual scholarships for journalists reporting from COP15. The foundation cooperated with Internews, a non-profit organization that trains journalists and activists worldwide, and the Internews Earth Journalism Network (EJN). The fellows were coached by EJN, given access to prominent scientists and politicians, and supported in producing their stories. Here are some of their stories. 

Journalist Busani Bafana, UNCCD-Fellow

With the help of the Fellowship, journalists like Busani Bafana from Zimbabwe were able to participate virtually in the UNCCD conference in Abidjan.

Daring to be optimistic

Paul Omorogbe has worked at the Nigerian Tribune, the country's oldest newspaper, since 2009; he spoke exclusively with Dr. Elvis Paul Tangem, coordinator of the Great Green Wall Initiative, which aims to renaturalize 8,000 kilometers of land across the African continent.

“The Great Green Wall Initiative began in 2007. It was launched by the African Union with the aim to restore the continent’s degraded landscapes and transform millions of lives in the Sahel. (Today) the greatest challenge to the Great Green Wall initiative is the communication narrative surrounding it.”

”When the project started, many of the media said it was never going to work; these Africans are crazy! The narrative focused too much on planting trees. How can you plant trees in the desert? But is it about much more than planting. (…) The trees are only a metaphor for the multifaceted sustainable land management and restoration activities that are taking place around the Great Wall or the drylands.”


The full story by Paul Omorogbe can be found here.

UNCCD conference

A right to rights

Science, health, the environment – these are the big issues for Yukfu Sylvie Bantar, who works at Cameroon Radio Television and has her own TV show called The Lifeline. After COP15, she wrote a report about the importance of land rights for women in the fight against desertification.

“A new study published by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) says that less than 20% of all landholders globally are women. (…) "There can be no gender equality without access to land,” said Loreno Aguilar, a former Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs of Costa Rica. Aguilar now works for the UNCCD.

“Women in Cameroon constitute about 70% of the agricultural work force, but less than 1% of them own land in the country. The customary law of Cameroon grants them access to land, but no rights to own the property (…) it is fundamental that women are integrated in policies with regards to land ownership since they carry out most activities on land.”


The full story by Yukfu Sylvie Bantar can be found here.


The scorching sun

Journalist Robert Amalemba, writing for Nairobi's The Standard newspaper, interviewed young Kenyan activist Patricia Kombo, who gave a moving speech to the heads of state and government at COP15. "What motivates you?" was one of the things he wanted to know from Kombo. Her answer:

“The scorching sun. I once went to the arid area of Lodwar to distribute relief and was taken aback at how people, especially children, were suffering under the scorching sun. The sun had made their land unproductive and there was no water in sight. I returned home to Makueni and immediately stared planting trees to avoid such a scenario in my home area. It soon spread to other areas and in schools. Youth, women, Indigenous communities and groups suffer the most due to soil degradation.”

“All that these groups need is education to change their attitude and some little motivation to keep them on the restoration and land reclaiming path. They have seen the hardships that come with degraded soils and will be more willing to be part of that because they owe it to themselves and the coming generations.”


The full interview by Robert Amalemba can be found here.

UNCCD conference

Clear commitments

Evelyn Kpadeh Seagbeh is a Liberian writer who works, among other things, for the English version of Deutsche Welle. She reported on the close of the UNCCD COP 15 conference – and what may follow from it. 

“At the close of the head of states summit, leaders adopted the Abidjan Call. The Abidjan Call urges countries to give the highest priority to the issue of drought and reinforce the commitment towards achieving land degradation neutrality by 2030. 
Their call to action comes in response to a stark warning by the UNCCD that up to 40% of all ice-free land is already degraded, with dire consequences for climate, biodiversity and livelihoods.”

“Renewing his commitment, President Ouattara also announced the ambitious “Abidjan Legacy” Programme to boost long-term environmental sustainability across major value chains in Côte d’Ivoire while protecting and restoring forests and lands and improving communities’ resilience to climate change, which will require mobilization of US$1.5 billion over the next five years.The initial pledges made during the Summit towards this goal came from the African Development Bank, the European Union, the Green Growth Initiative, and the World Bank Group.”


The full story by Evelyn Kpadeh Seagbeh can be found here.

Local Global News: Learn more about our support for reporting on land degradation and climate change resilience in Africa. All news reports written by the grantees about COP15 can be found at this link. There will be a similar program in connection with the World Climate Conference in the fall.  

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