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Journalist trainees speak to jackfruit producers in Pagon village, Indonesia.
©IPS/Abigail Lee
By Katie Taft 

Saleem Shaikh Muhammad, a freelance journalist from Pakistan, sat under a rambutan tree in Pagon village, about 70 kilometres outside Jakarta, Indonesia. He was interviewing a group of women about their jackfruit business and how it has been affected by a changing climate. After his interview, he walked over to me with an expression of disbelief.

“It’s not just about giving them some rice to eat,” he said of the group’s efforts to produce jackfruit snacks. “They are getting something much more – empowerment.”

Saleem is one of 13 journalists from across Asia who came to Indonesia this month as part of an IFAD-sponsored training programme conducted by the Thomson Reuters Foundation (TRF) and IPS International News Agency. The three-day training focused on expanding the journalists’ knowledge about the impact of climate change in the region, specifically its effect on rural areas.

Hari Priyono, Secretary General of the Indonesian Ministry of Agriculture, and Ron Hartman, IFAD Country Programme Manager, were among several speakers who gave presentations to the journalists. The training also included a visit to Pagon to interview members of a farmers’ organization that was once a part of the IFAD-supported P4K project.

‘Doing it themselves’
The project, which has been operating successfully on its own for seven years now, aims to improve post-harvest processing and provide small-scale farmers with access to capital through a local commercial bank. As the journalists saw first-hand, the project continues to thrive. Each member has access to about US$220 in capital, and they have increased their income by about 40 per cent, producing jackfruit snacks that they sell to souvenir shops in Jakarta.

Pagon village producers' group displays jackfruit snacks.
©IPS/Abigail Lee
What Saleem and the other journalists learned from speaking to the women is that reporting on climate change is about more than just environmental facts and figures.

“These women, they are business women with confidence and knowledge because they are doing it themselves,” Saleem explained on the bus ride back to Jakarta. “One woman told me that before, her husband would not give her money for buying household items. Now that she is making more money with her jackfruit business, he came to her recently to ask for money. She is the one making the money and the decisions.”

But Saleem, like the other journalists, saw that the women were beginning to struggle because of climate change.

“They talked about how the rains are not as predictable, and how water resources are running low,” he said. “Working together, they are looking at adjusting the two jackfruit planting seasons to accommodate the rainfall.”

Covering the human angle
Back in the training session, the journalists had a chance to discuss challenges and opportunities in covering climate change in their respective countries and share what they learned from the field visit. Dilshad Elita Karim, a reporter from Bangladesh, explained how her newspaper regularly covers climate change but sometimes lacks attention to detail on the social and economic aspects.

“Everything is too scientific, which I think readers find a bit boring,” she said. “There is a place for statistics and the science behind climate change, but what really improves a story is when I can meet the people who are living and dealing with the issues.”

Ho Vinh Phu, a television reporter from Viet Nam, agreed and noted that there are many similarities between rural areas in Indonesia and those in Viet Nam. “Those women yesterday, they could be speaking from a village in Viet Nam,” she said. “The social issues of climate change, how it impacts women and children specifically, is the same story no matter where you are.”

She added that journalists have a responsibility to better highlight what she called the human angle. “I think the story about climate change is a long, long one. It is the small farmers that need the most up-to-date information, and it is our stories that can help give them that.”


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