Using TV to Educate Millions of Farmers About Solar-Powered Irrigation

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For millions of farmers across Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, Saturday or Sunday at 1:30 PM means switching on the TV and leaning back on the sofa: it’s TV time! Shamba Shape Up, the most popular farming TV program in East Africa has just started its new season. WE4F leveraged the appeal of the show’s make-over style for farmers and its reach to raise awareness about solar-powered  irrigation and share knowledge about the pertinent issues around solar-powered irrigation systems.

The concept is simple: in each episode, the team and the show’s presenters visit one shamba – farm in Swahili. They identify the farmer’s struggles, invite experts, and give advice on farming practices to overcome these struggles. The range of topics is very broad and covers all agricultural fields relevant to the region: avocado management, maize cropping, dairy hygiene, mango post-harvest management, soil health, aquaculture, and improved seedlings – to just name a few. And now, thanks to the contribution of the East Africa Innovation Hub (EA RIH), the topic of solar-powered irrigation systems (SPIS) is also on the list!

Irrigation is critically important for adapting to the effects of climate change, for increasing crop quality and for switching production to high value crops. Most farms are still not irrigated and if they are, it is mostly by diesel pumps. The use of such pumps is associated with many disadvantages related to the high CO2 emissions, the financial burden of expensive fuel, and the need for frequent repairs.

Explaining financing mechanisms to a group of interested farmers

Although clean solutions, like SPIS are available, farmers are often not aware of this option or discouraged by the higher initial investment, when compared to conventional diesel pumps. Sharing information and raising awareness plays a vital role in demonstrating the advantages of going solar and giving advice on the basic questions. Farmers need answers to common questions like: How to access financing? What size system would work best for them? How do they correctly maintain a SPIS? And, how to make sure that they sustainably use water resources?

To answer these pressing questions, Shamba Shape Up steps in with the right approach to reach millions of farmers and inform them about relevant topics. For farmers, watching Shamba Shape Up means entertainment. The show boasts some well-known Kenyan actors and great entertainers such as Tonny Njuguna, Naomi Kamau, and Caroline Midimo as presenters.

Watching Shamba Shape Up also means visiting other farms without leaving home. The audience can see the struggles of fellow farmers and how they overcome them. Just like the farmer in front of the camera, the viewer at home can listen to advice from experts on pests, diseases, or good farming practices and later apply these tips on their own farm.

The format of the show clearly caters to farmers’ needs. During the 2020 season, the program’s Saturday afternoon English version  reached around 2 million viewers per week for each of the 25 weeks it was on-air. The Sunday afternoon airing in Swahili saw around 2.2 million viewers per week. The actual number of people watching is likely even higher, as farmers usually watch the show with other family members.

According to GeoPoll’s Audience Measurement Survey, nine out of ten farmers said Shamba Shape Up was the TV program that they trusted the most to provide agricultural and farming information. Almost all viewers (96%) said they had learnt something new from the series and almost all the farmers (93%), who watched the latest series claimed to have made a change on their farm, which they attributed to the program. As a result of the changes they made, almost two-thirds (63%) reported better yields and incomes.

The WE4F East Africa RIH collaboration with Mediae, the producer of Shamba Shape Up, started under the international initiative Powering Agriculture: An Energy Grand Challenge for Development (PAEGC). Together, PAEGC and Mediae developed several episodes of the show. As the PAEGC successor, WE4F took this further. WE4F East Africa RIH technical advisor Macben Makenzi ,as well as his German Cooperation (GIZ) colleague Martin Kagocha, appear in four episodes of the 2021 season. They present the topic of SPIS to farmers, explain the advantages of SPIS, and in the process, reach millions of farmers across the show’s  East Africa-wide audience. Parts of these episodes were later used to produce tutorials on SPIS, which are now available on the WE4F YouTube channel.

The tutorial videos explore multiple elements of solar-powered irrigation systems. The videos, which are available in English, French and Swahili, are meant to help farmers learn more about the systems. They comprehensively cover a range of topics such as the benefits and challenges of SPIS, investment and financing opportunities, water requirements, system components, farm suitability, maintenance and monitoring, and the way forward.

The Shamba Shape Up Episodes featuring WE4F experts can be found here after broadcast.