Shamba – Swahili for ‘farm’ – is the basis of livelihoods across East Africa, with an estimated 80% of incomes in the region relying on agriculture (East African Community, 2022). To increase farmers' productivity whilst supporting their adoption of sustainable practices in the face of climate change, the TV show and climate information platform Shamba Shape Up was established by a consortium of research organizations and Mediae – a company specialized in educational productions.
Together, they have developed a highly successful program that creates positive change for farmers, and engages all audiences in farming, with the program broadcasted on Kenya’s leading television channel ‘Citizen TV’. Carried out in Kenya, Zambia and Uganda, this one-of-a-kind reality TV show uses a ‘makeover’ model where the production team of film crew, agronomists and researchers visit chosen farms, identify the farmer’s aspirations and challenges, and provide information and guidance to increase their yields through more new practices.
According to Alliance Senior Scientist Aniruddha Ghosh, Shamba Shape Up creates impact at multiple levels: direct support to the featured farmers, indirect support to farmers with similar challenges, general agricultural education that prepares farmers for potential challenges, whilst informing non-farmer viewers of the importance of a sustainable farming transition. When asked about the Alliance’s role, Ghosh clarified that the Alliance agronomists develop most of the technical guidance offered to featured farmers, explaining:
“We bring the science and give the team the content for production. This project is a medium for us to translate our science for the end user: the farmer.” Elaborating on the value of this TV format, Ghosh explained: “with this program, farmers can relate with what is being recommended. You can tell a farmer that it’s best not to disturb the soil when tilling, but this can be hard to imagine. These episodes are like ‘do it yourself’ videos.”
Shamba Shape Up is a user-friendly and engaging example of climate information services (CIS): the provision of guidance to support farmers’ seasonal planning by offering weather predictions, information on the best varieties for these conditions, techniques to maximize yields and suggestions for optimal harvesting dates. To increase the stability of farmers’ livelihoods in a changing climate, CIS is an increasingly important area of the Alliance’s work; more information on CIS development can be found in this Q&A with Alliance CIS expert Julián Ramírez.
When asked how the CIS provided by Shamba Shape Up complements farmers’ traditional planning methods, Ghosh explained that it is only now – in the face of increasing climate variability and rapidly advancing technology – that CIS become useful. Ghosh clarified that in Kenya, farmers have suffered four consecutive seasons of drought. However, advanced climate prediction methods indicate a more reliable rainy season this year, which is important information for farmers to plan irrigation needs. Ghosh noted that throughout the 12 seasons of Shamba Shape Up, farmers’ main concern has been climate forecasting, and as forecasting technology advances, CIS offer increasingly critical support to farmers’ traditional knowledge.
Now in its 14th year, the program reaches over 8 million weekly viewers. While Shamba Shape Up was the first of its kind, its success has inspired the production of numerous similar programs; however, according to Shamba Shape Up participants, this program’s defining factor is its basis in research, with the guidance of experts such as Alliance scientists.
CIS can be provided in several ways, and Shamba Shape Up stands out in the variety of high-quality products it offers. Since the launch of its flagship TV show, the team has partnered with other donors to develop an interactive SMS system where farmers can enter their address to receive a free leaflet with regionally adapted recommendations on topics covered in the show; a free call center (iShamba) that provides farmers with instant support for practical tasks such as planting, watering, and harvesting; and, Budget Mkononi: an online budgeting tool to predict estimated costs and income for the coming season, allowing farmers to plan ahead.