Each week, frayintermedia highlights a journalist doing good work on the continent and honours them as our #FaveOfTheWeek. Meet Natasha Mhango, an award-winning Zambian journalist passionate about agriculture and pressing environmental issues such as climate change. Her blog Zambian Farmers Tribune captured a series of news and events in farming and the environment in Zambia.
Q. How did you become a journalist?
A. When I finished school, my first career choice was tourism and hotel management because I wanted to travel and I loved various culinary arts. I enjoyed learning about different cultures and interacting with people from different cultures.
So I thought I'd be happiest if I took a career in tourism and hotel management. Unfortunately, at the time, there was no leading university in Zambia which was offering a degree course in tourism and hotel management. but I had come across the prospectus of one university which was offering the course and I noticed that among its first-year courses was communication.
So I thought to myself: “Okay if I could study a degree in mass communication here in Zambia and get a job, I'll be able to later sponsor myself into studying what I really wanted to do.”
So I applied to the University of Zambia and I was admitted into the school of mass communication and from the first year of university, I decided to be biased towards print because at that time I was a camera shy and I wasn't sure if I would do well in radio. I think also because in secondary school and in primary school I was very strong in English composition and I enjoyed writing a lot so I thought print would be the best place for me to start from. And that's how I became a journalist.
Q. Why did you decide to focus on environmental issues in your reporting?
A. I guess for me it's twofold: on the one hand, it was I could say by default because I was employed by the ministry of agriculture and farming which is directly dependent on good management of natural resources and of course the environment. So I found that every time I wrote stories I would always have to add an issue of the environment. Our food production levels are being directly affected by the environment and our livestock populations fisheries. And so I find I can't write a story without talking about the challenges of the environment.
And I think also on a personal level it's something which came to me naturally because my mother was a nature-loving geography teacher. My father was a medical doctor who was obsessed with a clean environment and so respect and love of the environment is something which was instilled in me through practice at a very young age.
Q. What stories should African journalists be telling more?
A. I'll be openly biased and say I think we need to tell real stories of how disadvantaged and rural communities are being affected by climate change. I think most African populations still look at climate change as a problem for the developed world and yet it is threatening our food security and even the habitats and homelands of some indigenous people. So I think African journalists need to be writing these environmental stories from that perspective so as to compel action towards mitigating the effects.
And I think we should also be telling stories about the importance of indigenous knowledge and why we should recognise it as one of the solutions to mitigating the effects of climate change. I've found that in the agricultural sector, rural farmers are experts in their own rights and they do have certain indigenous practices that have helped cushion them against the effects of climate change. So for me, I think African journalists need to be telling more stories about how climate change is actually affecting the continent.
Q. What makes an exceptional journalist?
A. I think for me, an exceptional journalist is one that is able to do their research and interpret the critical issues well and present them in a way that they are convincing or rather well understood by the public.
I think in this day and age of social media, a good number of upcoming journalists have become lazy, if I should say so, and they depend too much on clickbait and what one media quoted from one of the media and so on. So I think research is important to build your credibility as a journalist because I think that's what makes you exceptional. It's the fact that people trust what you write and consider you credible.
I think research also helps a journalist identify what the real issues are in the topic that they are writing about and what questions need to be asked. And it also makes you a specialist in your own field. So I think an exceptional journalist is one who does their homework and articulates it well.
Q. Why, despite all the challenges, do you stay in journalism?
A. I think journalism is a noble profession because of its power to set the agenda. I think journalism steers the direction of how many people think and how they respond to issues. And I love waking up every day and aspiring to be that journalist that will contribute to how people will respond to issues of agriculture and the environment. The journalism profession awards me that opportunity every day.
Q. What has been your greatest payoff in being a journalist?
A. My greatest payoff, I think, is travel. I love to travel. I've visited every province of my country and I think by the time I retire, I will have visited every district and every corner of this country. I've also been able to visit other African and non-African countries as well. And now that I've been receiving awards for some of the articles that I write, I think the greatest payoff is knowing that people are now paying attention to the issues that I'm bringing out. And I think that's it's nice knowing that in my own small way, I could be able to make the change that I would like to see.
Is there a journalist you would like to see featured as a #FaveOfTheWeek? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org