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Making farming attractive to young Kenyans

Sw’agriculture – Making farming attractive to young Kenyans through youth media innovations 

In March 2014 the Kenyan youth media phenomenon Shujaaz won its second Digital Emmy Award. ASHC has produced two story lines with Shujaaz to explore how integrated soil fertility management (ISFM) messages can be packaged in very different ways for a youth audience.

“When ASHC was conceived we allocated some funds to allow us to invest in innovative communication approaches. Shujaaz is a great example of how we have developed exemplary materials. As we reviewed our approach to gender we realised that there were emerging opportunities for targeting young people. Traditional thinking is that young people are not interested in farming. However, when we find ways of making the information relevant young people respond very positively.” explains George Oduor.

Rob Burnet of Shujaaz explains the background to the project: “When Shujaaz was conceived a little over four years ago, everyone we spoke to told us their concerns about underemployed Kenyan youths.

Half of Kenya’s population is under 18 and two-thirds are under 30. As we talked to people we kept coming across interesting opportunities that young people were using to improve their lives.

Brilliant new ideas for better agriculture,new markets, small enterprises job creation, ways to hold government to account and demand services peacefully and effectively.

It seemed to us that lots of solutions were available to common problems, but young people just didn’t seem to know about them.

Finally we started looking for media that was talking intelligently toKenya’s youth, engaging them in productive, inspiring conversations.But apart from pop-music radio, there seemed to be gap when it came to positive, youth-focused media. And that’s when we realised there was really a need – and an opportunity – for us to act.

Shujaaz has created a multi-media channel that looks and feels like the real world to young people who have never seen people like themselves in the media before. It can reach and engage a monthly audience of over 6 million young Kenyans aged 10-30 in conversations about big ideas that can transform their lives. Part of the magic is the creation of DJ Boyie. Like all heroes in comics, this character has a secret – he has built a radio station in his bedroom. So the broadcasts that Shujaaz syndicates to 23 radio stations comes straight out of the life of one of the comic characters.

Sometimes Boyie talks to other characters in the comic and sometimes to Kenyan young people who have contacted him though social media. It is this blended reality that makes the whole thing seem fresh, exciting and relevant to Kenyan young people.” This idea was presented by referencing a previous story about growing kale in sacks – years of intensive cropping had left the soil depleted and compost was seen as a cheap way of restoring the soil health. But Shujaaz also presented the idea of making compost as a commercial enterprise for Kenyan youth. It is an ideal business start-up – it turns rubbish into a valuable and needed product and requires no capital outlay.

Shujaaz likes ideas like this that nudge its audience towards new ways of working, thinking and acting. Every Shujaaz comic has had at least one story relating to agriculture.

Agriculture is presented both as a valid career opportunity and as a means to an end. So, for example, young people use agriculture to pay for school fees or support themselves moving towards their career aspirations. This is agriculture with attitude or, as DJ Boyie might say, sw’agriculture.

In August 2014 Shujaaz.TV is launching on a national TV station in Kenya and Shujaaz launches in Tanzania. ASHC wishes them continued success.

The story so far:

  • Over 35 million copies of the monthly comic book have been published and distributed free since 2010 – 11 million distributed inside The Nation newspapers and the rest picked up from Mpesa kiosks and youth clubs in villages, urban slums and peri-urban areas
  • 1,200 daily radio broadcasts have aired on more than 20 Kenyan radio stations -more than 24,000 broadcasts Over 41,000 active Facebook fans. Daily live chats with Shujaaz
  • FM host DJ Boyie including q & a with agriculture experts including ASHC technical advisory member Peter Okoth Tens of thousands of SMS exchanges between the audience and the Shujaaz characters
  • Shujaaz videos uploaded on the YouTube channel featuring Shujaaz Fans
  • A web archive of all the Shujaaz stories online

Through free distribution on multiple at huge scale Shujaaz is becoming a reliable friend to a generation of young people for whom accessing education, information and moral systems can be a real challenge ASHC was a perfect partner for Shujaaz. There were several proven practical ideas on ISFM that can speak directly to the youth audience.

One of the ASHC sponsored issues looked at making compost and highlighted sources of organic matter in a peri-urban area.