Video cameraman recording pollution on a beach

Journalists Matter in Ecosystem Restoration

African journalists need to tell the story.

4 min readOct 28, 2020

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Alarmed by widespread environmental degradation, the climate crisis and plummeting biodiversity, governments last year declared 2021–2030 as the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (UN Decade).

The UN Decade is important. It aims to prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems on every continent and in every ocean. By doing so, it can help to end poverty, combat climate change and prevent mass species extinction.

One of the barriers to achieving the UN Decades’ vision is public awareness. That’s where journalists have a big part to play. However, in Africa, that’s easier said than done.

Approximately 3 billion people — about half of the worlds’ population — live within 200 kilometres of a coastline. In Africa, the average population density in coastal areas is about 80 people per square kilometre, twice the world average population density. And Africas’ coastlines — the narrow strip where land and sea meet — are undergoing rapid decline. A decline that is being under-reported by African journalists.

The reason for this under-reporting is that African journalists cannot bite the hand that feeds them. They are obliged to comply with revenue-generating editorial objectives. Corporate advertisers and government agendas rule the narrative.

Additional to this conflict of interest, the theoretical principles of course content at many journalism education institutions in Africa follow Western or First World influence. Colloquial dialects and traditional word-of-mouth communications receive scant attention. Gender discrimination and lack of access to modern reporting equipment and fieldwork opportunities compound the problem.

To overcome this problem, Walk For Africa (W4A) — a member-driven non-profit organisation headquartered in Cape Town, South Africa, is launching the Africa Coastal Odyssey expedition in support of the UN Decade.

The plan is to host and mentor journalism, film and visual communications students from 40 Africa coastal countries over the next decade. During the 40,000 km (25,000 mi) Odyssey expedition, over 603 students will be hosted for one week each to gain practical storytelling/reporting skills and experience.

Along the journey, the two-person Odyssey team, comprised of a seasoned journalist and student, will discover the untold stories of coastal communities, conservation NGOs, and marine-related academics to glean insights and report on the topic of Ecosystem Restoration in Africa.

Launching from the southern tip of Africa in mid-March 2021, the Odyssey team will walk the coastline in a clockwise direction towards Namibia and Angola while hauling a purpose-built expedition trailer loaded with approximately 100 kg of equipment and supplies for 14-days of self-sufficiency.

Fitted with solar panels and a wind generator to power the latest digital camera, video and drone equipment, the expedition trailer will provide a unique approach to field reporting. It will enable the team to upload visual and written content to cloud servers (and directly to social media channels where relevant) via satellite connectivity daily.

A Correlation Network Officer (CNO), based in the Cape Town headquarters, will coordinate uploaded video and storytelling content. Editing will be provided by expert W4A partners. After editing, the CNO will submit the students’ storytelling content to local and international media partners for publishing consideration.

A daily blog diary section on the Walk4Africa.org website will track the Odyssey teams’ progress and include summary highlights on the days’ proceedings with automated posts to social media channels.

That’s the plan. But a plan without funding is going nowhere. That's where you can play a part. The budget to finance the first year of this expedition (South Africa and Namibia) works out at $80,000, which includes building the expedition trailer, transport, food and equipment for the mentors and 21 students. You can view and donate towards the crowdfunding campaign here.

Another way to play a part is by helping to reduce the total sum that needs to be raised by offering in-kind supplier sponsorships. For example, the trailer fabricator — Advanced FibreForm — a specialist carbon fibre engineering, tooling and production firm based in Cape Town — are sponsoring 50 per cent of the expedition trailer production cost. That’s a very generous $15,000 donation!

There’s a long list of equipment in the Odyssey expedition budget that could be sponsored. Things like food, camping and hiking gear, camera and video gear, and transportation services (airfares and airport shuttles) would all help to reduce the target figure.

Overall, the Africa Coastal Odyssey expedition is set to make a massive impact in raising awareness of environmental, climate, and biodiversity issues along Africa and its ocean island coastlines and in supporting African journalists to tell Africas’ UN Decade story.

And the impact doesn't end there.

Following in the Odyssey teams’ footsteps several months later, each of 40 host countries will launch a series of public participation walkathon events. Kicking off simultaneously in South Africa and Namibia to coincide with World Tourism Day (27 September 2021), the events will be arranged and coordinated by W4A Chapter Steering Committees and aim to raise awareness of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and promote sustainable tourism in Africa.

A group of hikers walking along a stretch of beach

Given the importance of tourism to post-coronavirus pandemic economic recovery in Africa, these walkathon events will mobilise mass-public participation to benefit domestic and regional tourism, and create global awareness to foster international inbound tourism.

In conclusion, #BlackLivesMatter for #GenerationRestoration. If these issues matter to you, as they should do, then take action by supporting these initiatives today.

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Travel & Motoring Journalist specialising in Africa.