Mediae takes season two of Mpeke Town into Uganda on Bukedde TV in English and Luganda – Changing farmers’ lives through edutainment

5 November 2021

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Edutainment pioneer Mediae has created several reality formats to address issues experienced by farmers in a number of East African countries. It has twinned audience-winning programmes with digital support services to help transform farmers’ lives. Russell Southwood spoke to Mediae founder David Campbell about the second season of its drama show Mpeke Town that will be aired in Uganda early next year.

Mediae seems to be really hitting its stride, having developed three different reality TV formats focused on helping farmers to understand how to improve their livelihoods. It has also secured support from World Food Bank “supporting us to scale up. We’re looking at taking our edutainment reality programmes into Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Africa and Zambia. We’ll take one of those formats – Shamba Shape Up – into Uganda funded by USAID. We’ve also shot the second season of Mpeke Town which will air on Bukedde TV in English and Luganda.” The first season of the Ugandan Shamba Shape-Up will air from mid-February.

About four years ago it looked at the impact data about Shamba Shape-Up and Makutano Junction and concluded it could both create new versions of the format and extend them into a wider range of countries: “We decided to take the 16-year old education format of Makutano Junction, the issue led drama series, and see whether we could replicate it in another country. Likewise, we decided to do the same with Shamba Shape-Up a reality TV show that makes over smallholder farms while addressing key issues around increasing incomes and improving livelihoods of millions”

In addition new styles of reality TV have been explored including the series in two languages called “Don’t Lose The Plot”. The latter pits young farmers (Young man and a woman from Kenya and from Tanzania ) against each other to see who can make the most money sustainably side by side out of a one acre agricultural plot over the course of a year condensed down into a 13 part TV series. The competitors get access to financial inclusion and advice on mobile phones. This includes things like producing broiler chickens and growing cash crops like tomatoes and cabbages in higher volumes as well as offering ways to mitigate climate change through things like solar-powered irrigation. The programs have aired most recently in both Kenya (on Citizen TV) and in Tanzania (on Independent TV).

One of the digital support tools that went with the “Don't Lose the Plot” programme was Mukononi, a budgeting app for small plot farmers. It allowed them to build a budget for their plot and has comparable figures to help them. 17,000 farmers logged into the app and it is now available on WhatsApp.

In addition another reality series Shamba Chef was produced and broadcast based on the success of Shamba Shape. This looked at improving life in the rural kitchen by making them over and promoting clean cookstoves, improved nutrition and looked at competitors using clean cook stoves to produce the most delicious meal. Also wrapped into the process was going to the market and looking at what is most nutritious and the different food groups people need to eat. The lucky winner got a clean cook stove.

Mpeke Town (Mpeke means grain or seed in Luganda) is a TV drama and was initially funded by the Agricultural banking initiative aBi . It went out first in 2018, the protagonist is a young man whose family buys him a boda-boda to go and make his living in the city. He is robbed of it and beaten up into the bargain, having to return to his village. He meets a young women who persuades him to look at farming as way of creating a future together. Its about getting families to look at farming as a business in Uganda and how to do this.

Over 11 years the company has grown its audience for Shamba Shape Up TV series in Kenya from 3.5 million to 10 million, reaching an estimated 4.2 million households. Campbell emphasizes the point that people are choosing to watch the programme and with that comes a certain level of commitment: “People are making their own choices, deciding to watch these TV progeammes. They want to make the changes. By running 26 episodes right throughthe growing season we are seeing huge changes in knowledge, attitudes and practices (KAP study run for 1,000 farmers pre and post every series) providing essential information on impact, changes to content and where to focus the series ”

One of the main forms of digital/mobile support for the programmes has been a platform called iShamba, which allows farmers to call or sms a call centre and also sign up to get weekly information on two products they are farming, this could be for example chickens ( event based information) and potatoes (seasonal based information) plus weather for the farmers location and market information from two markets. There are now 500,000 farmers using this product.

It has experimented with a pay-for offer where farmers paid US$8 for a year which had additional features like four products to choose, financial inclusion messaging, access to bank loans, signed onto Whatsapp groups for their location, Market prices and weather This has now attracted 5,000 people in the first wave. To overcome the payment hurdle, it has worked with private sector and donor partners to sign up their clients : for example, GIZ funded a youth project in Western Kenya where 3,500 of them were signed up for one and a half years providing them with a call centre and support throughout the time of the project.

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