Agricultural reality show helps farmers talk to scientists

“Our model is and edutainment model. Entertain, meet information needs … build big audiences.” And big audiences can drive sustainability. So said David Campbell of The Mediae Company at a presentation Bringing Science to Life: CCAFS and Shamba Shape-Up, hosted by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) this Wednesday.

Mediae produces the popular TV show Shamba Shape-Up, a “make-over” style reality show for rural and peri-urban audiences that reaches over 10 million farmers in East Africa and gets double the audience of major Kenyan TV stations like KBC, KTN and NTV at primetime.

The show is changing the way people get their agricultural information. Research shows that Shamba Shape-Up viewers have greater understanding about agricultural topics than non-viewers – from composting, to nitrogen-fixing plants, to the benefits of silage.

At least 36 percent of Shamba Shape-Up viewers have changed their farming practices as a result of the show – including choosing different seed varieties, intercropping maize and beans and storing maize.


David Campbell of the Mediae Company. An innovative collaboration between researchers and the makers of the hit television show ‘Shamba Shape-Up’ connects farmers with knowledge on sustainable agriculture.

“We’re basically offering [the development sector] a pipeline – very large numbers of people on a regular basis, not just a one-off documentary,” said Campbell, a media specialist and recognized leader in development communications. “People know where [the show] is, they’re coming to it, they’re listening to it, the numbers are building.”

TV, which according to Campbell, might cost a Kenyan family “a really good goat”, is a crucial and growing source for outside information. And surprisingly, Mediae’s audience isn’t restricted to families with “two cars and a washing machine” – it’s predominantly rural.

But its Mediae’s use of mobile technology that’s really revolutionizing knowledge sharing, by putting farmers on the phone with scientists. Farmers can submit questions via SMS and Mediae connects them with experts at organizations like CCAFS or CARE International who offer answers. Over 170,000 farmers have already tapped into the service and those numbers are growing.

One of the company’s goals is to use mobile technology to form farmer groups. “The objective is to connect [farmers] with new potato seed varieties,” said Campbell. Mediae can learn how many people want particular seed potato varieties and put partner organizations directly in touch with the farmers.

Mediae has also built a knowledge-sharing platform, called the Africa Knowledge Zone. Campbell’s aim is to use the platform to connect millions of farmers to a range of research and development organizations.

So how does Mediae ensure that Shamba Shape-Up is not just a source of entertainment but can be translated into something beneficial by rural farmers? “We show the products…and explain their advantages via numbers, either very simply or with a full calculation,” he said. “We look for women farmers and try to address issues where women can earn more money and draw them into the program.” If neighbours and friends are making changes, he explains, the information also has a better chance of reaching the poor.

Bruce Campbell, director of CCAFS, who attended the event, asked how Mediae goes about extracting useful information from scientists.

The response was that the real challenge is not just getting a scientist to explain a subject in simple terms – it’s bringing research organizations on board in the first place. “The first step is actually getting research organizations to think seriously about talking to farmers. Without that, there’ll be no progress.”

CCAFS is already collaborating with Mediae to raise awareness about Climate Smart Agriculture – helping farmers adapt and become more resilient to climate change.

Patti Kristjanson, CCAFS Theme Leader on Linking Knowledge to Action is optimistic that the approach will grow and build. “This is an incredibly innovative way of using technologies to get research information to those who need it most – the farmers. This is what brings our science to life.”


Related Reading:

The CGIAR Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS)

Shamba Shape Up

Africa Knowledge Zone

The Mediae Company

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