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Shape up that shamba!

Learning new agricultural techniques is more accessible than ever before (© Becky Lee)
Learning new agricultural techniques is more accessible than ever before
© Becky Lee

Sitting in a circle with a cup of tea in hand, television presenters Naomi Kamau and Tonny Njuguna nod and smile as they listen to the list of problems being explained by John and his family on their small farm. There is no water, the cow shed is falling apart and there is no power. The children want to grow vegetables to help their mother cook but don't know what to grow; they want to go to school but money for fees is short. But instead of despairing at the seemingly impossible challenges ahead, the presenters smile, look at each other and shout: "Are you ready? You bet! It's time for a Shamba Shape Up!"

Based in Kenya, Shamba Shape Up (shamba - meaning small farm in Swahili) is Kenya's first make-over television programme - with an agricultural twist. Produced by Mediae Company in Nairobi, each series guides smallscale farmers in improved pest management, irrigation, cattle rearing, poultry keeping, and other techniques, in an engaging yet informative way.

The stylish editing and quality agricultural content is entertaining thanks to quirky presenters, and combined with an interactive ICT element, learning new agricultural techniques is more accessible than ever before. Viewers can request additional detailed information by email or post via an accompanying text message service. Since its pilot inception in 2007, funded by the UK's Department of International Development (DFID) among other partners, the first series attracted over 3,000 text messages a week requesting further information and accumulated a substantial following on social media networks.

The edutainment model and ICTs

Mediae Company Director, David Campbell, explains that agricultural research must deliver changes in farmers' livelihoods to be successful. True advocates of the theory that 'seeing is believing', each episode outlines a series of agricultural challenges facing one family such as John's. A team of experts is called in for the 'shape up', and a number of solutions are implemented. An agricultural expert within Mediae Company works closely with research bodies, including the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), to guarantee that good quality agricultural advice is provided. Subjects covered include low-cost, sustainable farming methods such as intercropping Napier grass to deter maize stalk borer, improving yields for dairy cows during the dry season by introducing low-cost fodder, and reducing deforestation by using low energy stoves.

The first series of television programmes was broadcast in Kenya to about 4 million people (© Becky Lee)
The first series of television programmes was broadcast in Kenya to about 4 million people
© Becky Lee

The first series of television programmes, which contained 13 episodes, was broadcast from March to June 2012 in Kenya to about 4 million people. The rural audience for such information is potentially large. Campbell notes that Makutano Junction, an edutainment soap produced by Mediae Company which focuses on general development issues, has an audience of 7.2 million in Kenya, 70 per cent of which is rural.

Hannah Harris, a communication consultant for Mediae Company, notes that the edutainment value of Shamba Shape Up has been drastically boosted by its ICT component. "Viewers were strongly encouraged to use text messages to submit questions to agricultural experts working with the team and request leaflets that accompanied the show," she says. "Information was therefore repeated in various formats, which really helps consolidate the key messages." Leaflets have prompted more text messages requesting further clarification on specific agricultural information. For example: "I want to know what is mixed with blackmajic* to spray potato seed before you cover it with soil." The answer: Diammonium phosphate fertiliser.

Social media, in particular Facebook, have added another exciting dimension to programme content. "We keep up motivation by talking about filming and issues that people can expect to see in series two on Facebook," Harris notes. Posts include advice accompanied by video clips or images, such as: "How to ensure your layer hens are healthy and happy - stressed, sick hens will not be productive. Farmer Arthur saw his egg production hugely increase when he made these small changes."

Some of the topics for series two and three of the programme have been strongly influenced by requests coming in by text message and Facebook, adds Harris. "SMS and social media are very successful at building dialogue and audience engagement," she says.

Broadcast beyond Kenya

A team of experts is called in for the 'shape up' (© Becky Lee)
A team of experts is called in for the 'shape up'
© Becky Lee

Critics have argued that media interventions by themselves often do little to influence an individual's capacity to act on knowledge they receive. Yet Shamba Shape Up's accompanying ICT component appears to be a vehicle through which more impact can be made. In series one alone, 16,000 leaflets were sent out on request, and over 22,000 text messages were received. Surveys among viewers indicate that 40 per cent have changed their farming practices as a consequence of the programme, mostly by improving soil fertility, and 91 per cent of viewers questioned said they had had learnt something new.

Filming for series two has been completed, with anticipated broadcast to a wider audience of about 4 million in Tanzania and 2 million in Uganda. A quick glance at the social networking site Facebook reveals comments such as: "Thanks Shamba Shape Up for shaping my parent's farm last week in Rongai, still unbelievable to me, was so grateful," and: "Where can I get the shamba shape up solar lights?" With a following of more than 2,000 Facebook users already, Kenya's audience at least is still hungry for more.

* Blackmajic is a supplement that helps bind DAP fertiliser

Written by: Georgina Smith

Date published: September 2012


Have your say

Hi you guys are doing a good job of teaching us on how to im... (posted by: irene litswa)

Hi Steven. Might be best to get in touch with the Shamba tea... (posted by: Hannah)

Stephen - Shamba Shape Up have a lot of information and link... (posted by: New Agriculturist)

This is a great service to emerging farmers! How can my com... (posted by: Stephen Carr)


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