Edutainment company Mediae's latest recipe to revive rural livelihoods in Kenya mixes agricultural education and reality TV, with a pinch of celebrity and a dash of drama.
What is Shamba Shape-Up?
Shamba Shape-Up is a farm makeover show produced by Mediae, an organization that uses media to empower audiences with information. The program has all the usual emotional hooks of reality television: upbeat presenters, expert commentators, snappy editing and the before-and-after arc of an individual in transition. But this is reality television with a twist. According to the show's creator, David Campbell, its mission is to open up academia's ivory tower.
"Agricultural research should not be funded unless it is [also] directly communicated to farmers," he explained. "And it must deliver changes in farmers' livelihoods. That is the measurement of research success."
Communicating agricultural research innovations to small-scale farmers in an entertaining format is exactly what the show aims to do. Television has broader reach than the Internet in rural Kenya and Tanzania, and because the program is broadcast in both English and Swahili it's accessible to most, regardless of literacy or language barriers. Information that reaches people who own a television will ultimately be passed on to their poorer neighbors by word-of-mouth.
Let's take the latest program as an example. In Episode Nine, the team visits Vincent, whose family of 16 is supported by his one-acre farm. He has numerous problems. Water is scarce. Moles eat his potatoes. His chickens don't have their own coop and his beehives are ineffective. The Shamba Shape-Up team tackles these issues one by one with pragmatic, low-cost solutions. Vincent is shown how to harvest rainwater and make homemade mole traps. The team helps him build a chicken coop. A bee expert advises on optimum placement for his new hives, and a financial consultant gives a lesson on bookkeeping.
How is the show funded?
Campbell explained that covering costs of the show was a challenge because there is low awareness of the power of television as a developmental tool. Ultimately it was the African Enterprise Fund, several 'enlightened' agricultural NGOs and a range of key players in the commercial sector who financed the first series. In the long run, Mediae aims to make the show both self-supporting and profitable:
The objective is to develop a sustainable television show for farmers to improve their incomes and livelihoods," Campbell said, "which in turn will raise funds from different players in the agricultural sectors to pay for the production, allowing Mediae a profit in the process.
What about its impact?
Programs like Shamba Shape-Up are no magic bullet for poverty alleviation.
Shamba Shape-Up appears to have great reach and to be an effective means of providing information to people," said Dr. Martin Scott, lecturer in Media and International Development at the University of East Anglia. "But media interventions by themselves often do little to influence an individual's capacity to act on knowledge.
Nevertheless, the potential benefits of the show are impressive. As David Campbell theorizes in an interview with The Guardian, if just 10 percent of the show's seven million projected viewers adopt a practice that earns them an extra $200-300 each, this scales up to an extra $210 million going back into agricultural communities.