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A Kenyan reality television show is working to plug the gap between smallholder farmers and researchers — and has the potential to boost crop yields for millions of viewers and generate millions for rural communities, according to its creator.

Shamba Shape-Up (Shamba is the Swahili word for 'small farm') combines celebrity presenters and upbeat music with expert advice on soil fertility, disease prevention, solar energy and financing.

"Agriculture is the absolute backbone of Kenya and the livelihood for many people," David Campbell, the show's creator and director of the 'edu-tainment' company Mediae, tells The Guardian.

"We have a potential 5.6 million rural audience for TV … but there is no agricultural information on TV. We want to establish a series that gives farmers information in an educational and entertaining way."

Campbell says he feels that developed world donors spend too much on research and too little on communicating this research to farmers.

"We thought the big research institutes would jump on [the show] as a way of scaling up their information. We have had, especially in the livestock area, absolutely no participation. However, the next series does see icipe [the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology] research coming on board on biological control methods of crop pests."

In the first episode, aired in March, George Mungai's farm was given a "makeover".

George told the presenters that he had a problem with maize storage, and that his cows were skinny because feed was too expensive. His wife Lucy complained that the chickens entered the kitchen and ate the food, and his children said they couldn't do their homework because the kerosene lamps ran out too quickly. One daughter wanted a shelf to put washed dishes on.

Co-host Tonny Njuguna, a well-known actor, said: "Let's go do it!"

A soil test was carried out, fertiliser was recommended, a chicken coop was built, maize storage was improved, solar lamps were provided, and kitchen shelving was built.

The crew has since returned to see how George and his family are doing. He says that he is getting a much better price for his maize, and that his potatoes are thriving.

"[The programme] has taught me to practise better farming," he says. "I've learned to plant potatoes well … poultry keeping, dairy farming. It has almost doubled my yields."

He has also been revealing his secrets to his neighbours so that they too can boost their farming yields.

The first series, which will end in June, reaches about four million people in Kenya; the team hope to bring in 3–4 million people in Tanzania and two million in Uganda with the next series. It is broadcast on Citizen TV in English and Swahili, and gets up to 3,000 SMS messages after each show — with many viewers requesting information leaflets.

Shamba Shape-Up has received US$600,000 from the African Enterprise Challenge Fund (AECF), a private-sector organisation. Other sponsors include the Africa Soil Health Consortium and the UK's Department for International Development.

Link to full article in The Guardian

Watch the pilot episode of Shamba Shape-Up below: