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Kenya’s Got Talent

Modern Farmer Magazine, at the heart of the rapidly growing global movement, “to make connections between what we eat, how we live, and the planet,” gave a shout-out to Shamba Shape Up – a hit Kenyan reality TV show for struggling farmers, and recognized it for its unique mixture of agricultural development and feel-good entertainment.

Co-host Naomi Kamau is an iconic Kenyan soap actress, famous for her previous TV portrayal of a character known as ‘Mama Vegetable’. Alongside colleague Tonny Njuguna, the two hosts listen to the concerns of individual farmers with understanding and charm, creating an incredibly popular reality TV hit based on agricultural dos and don’ts specific to East Africa. Don’t worry, I had questions too…

If the hopes and dreams of these struggling farmers are not crushed with zingers from Simon Cowell, what is it that keeps these viewers from changing the channel? Wouldn’t reality show fanatics more likely prefer to see episodes end with a panel of Top Farmers dauntingly tell one contestant, “pack up your ploughs and go”?

The fact is that Shamba Shape Up has reached a popularity surpassing 10 million viewers a week. What are they doing right? Mama Vegetable’s substantive, collaborative and entertaining style is the wildest twist to reality TV yet – being helpful. (Far be it from anyone to diminish Heidi Klum’s insightful input and nuanced observations, like, “I vote yes”.)

The crew visits a struggling farm each episode, enabling the owners with the tips and tricks that will double the profits of the Shamba (the Swahili word for a small farm). The information provided by experts specializing in the field, so to speak, ranges from how to test the pH of soil, to crop diversification to best fit the demand of local marketplaces. After a 30 yearlong career bridging media production and agricultural development, creator and director of the series, David Campbell, emphasizes that lack of information was the main deterrent of successful farming.

The series is soaring in popularity with episodes both in English and Swahili. The target audience is anyone who can get to a television in rural and semi-urban areas of East Africa. It is broadcasted in Tanzania, Uganda, and Kenya – all nations with economies reliant on agriculture. Those 3 aside, 17 other countries are interested in taking on Shamba Shape Up as well, none of which are part of the developed world. One truly starts to wonder when a reality TV show has managed to successfully engage in profitable humanitarian aid, while the United States remains highly reluctant to trust that any foreign aid investments will even make good.

The reality show itself stimulates Kenya’s entertainment industry while simultaneously providing information to millions of viewers working in agricultural; however, the unmentioned humanitarian legacy that the show will leave behind will be having showcased the self-empowerment of information distribution on a weekly basis. In other words, the United States spends millions on research to determine hypothetical agricultural investments, while Shamba Shape Up makes those investments a broadcasted ‘reality’.

– Davy Gardner

Sources: Modern Farmer, BBC Africa, The Guardian, Shamba Shape Up
Photo: Modern Farmer