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Spring 2012
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Student Journals

Makutano Junction and Shamba Shape Up: Teaching the Millennium Development Goals in East Africa through Entertaining and Educational Television Programming

In January 2012, George Homsy, Ben Hubner, Hajra Hur, Jean Nsabumuremyi, and Carrie Young (team leader) traveled to Karen, Kenya, as part of CIIFAD’s SMART program. Their research included extensive interviews with smallholder farmers in five villages (Kikuyu, Ndeiya, Kijabe, Machakos, and Nakuru) to get feedback about environmental messages in mass media, as well as a sense of farmers’ knowledge of issues relating to climate change and environmental conservation. The team worked closely with The Mediae Company, which produces the shows Makutano Junction and Shamba Shape Up. The following are excerpts from reflections written about the team’s time in the villages. Names of those interviewed have been removed to maintain confidentiality.

Day 1 (1/09/12) Kikuyu

Here in Kikuyu village I interviewed the first farmer, and I did my best explaining that the purpose of the interview was to inform the Mediae production company of how farmers understand and use the information from Makutano Junction and Shamba Shape Up. It seemed to me that she had learned much more from the Ministry of Agriculture than from the show. After watching the Makutano and Shamba Shape Up episodes, she said that Shamba Shape Up was better because it was straight to the point. Makutano Junction may provide similar lessons, but it introduces other topics before the farming information.

E. was my first interview of the project. At the beginning of the interview, she was sitting forward on the sofa and was tense but friendly. She spoke in a very quiet voice, but she was a very smart, thoughtful person. She talked about the danger of increasing disease when raising fish in manmade ponds, i.e., outside of their natural ecosystems. I asked her where she learned this, and she said that she had just thought about it. After watching Shamba Shape Up and hearing that maize could be stored in silage bags, she said she had the idea to also store her beans in the bags. She was knowledgeable about the importance of trees and the dangers of development and pollution, and she was very aware of changes in rainfall patterns and shifts in traditional farming away from planting around the rhythms of the rains to systems using drip irrigation for increased predictability.

Day 2 (1/10/12) Ndeiya

Day two was spent in a village called Ndeiya, about 35-40 minutes away from Karen, Kenya. At one point, our translator Ken started talking about the introduction of eucalyptus trees into the area and the problems that they had caused when planted on fertile farmland. The acidic leaves make it impossible for anything to grow beneath them; they also deplete the soil because they are so fast-growing. It is recommended that eucalyptus only be planted on infertile land for these reasons, but development professionals often encourage growing them because they grow fast and can provide a quick source of wood for cooking and building without fully understanding the consequences of these trees.

This was our second day at a shamba (farm). There is a lot of downtime, which is good because it helps us all to get into the rhythm of the rural life. The more time we can spend in the rural areas, the better. We need to see how things move—how lunch is prepared, etc. I don’t want us to rush from interview to interview and place to place because part of what I wanted the team to do is really experience how different life in the village is from life in the towns and cities. The first step to communicating with farmers is gaining a better understanding of how they live, and the only way to do that is to spend time with them. The more time the better.

Day 3 (1/11/12) Kijabe

To get to Kijabe, we drove past the Rift Valley to an altitude higher than before. We passed a government forest on the way there that looked like it could be in Ithaca—the trees didn’t appear to be indigenous and looked like some kind of pine. We spent the day at the home of C., who said he’s watched Makutano Junction for five years. He said he learned a lot about how to plant seeds, prepare seed beds, care for animals, and how to plant and care for trees—and the benefits of doing so—from the show. He has planted around 100 trees. He didn’t realize he could send text messages for more information, an indication that this needs to be made more obvious. C. had begun the process of drying maize and napier grass to make silage, even though he didn’t know what the next steps were. He was paying really close attention to the episodes that we showed so that he could complete the process. C. was one of the few people who talked about the changes that have taken people away from their indigenous or ancestral ways of planting.

After I interviewed C., I spent time in the kitchen with three women—and eventually C., too—who were cooking lunch. They were making ugali, cooking beef, and making githeri, a traditional Kikuyu dish. I love to spend time with African women who are cooking because in many ways this is the heart of issues relating to agriculture and food security. One of the women cooking ended up being my second interviewee of the day. She said that she uses her cell phone to check market information in the morning, but she said she hadn’t texted Makutano Junction because by the time she thought to write down the SMS number, the show was over. She also talked about the changes that have occurred since the time of her ancestors because of the changing weather patterns. Although not familiar with the phrase “global warming,” she was very aware of changing weather patterns, though, and the need to plant trees.

Day 4 (1/12/12) Machakos

Today we visited Machakos, which was the first village we traveled to that was not predominantly Kikuyu. The farmers in this village were of the Akamba tribe, and their vernacular language was Kamba.

It’s hard to imagine a more illuminating interview. Very educated, very smart. Watches Makutano Junction every once in a while. Sees it as educational. Takes notes during the show. Said he learned about how to price crops from the show and about which tomatoes to grow—which ones grow faster and which are most disease-resistant. When I asked if he had noticed any changes in the weather, he said yes. When I asked what he thought was causing the changes, he started naming them, and I believe, if this is possible, recited the exhaustive list: deforestation, overpopulation, overgrazing, on and on and on, as if he had just put down an environmental science textbook. Not surprisingly, he turned out to be the leader of a 30-member farmers' organization called the Kalilikwa Self-Help Group. All members are required to plant a minimum of 20 trees per year on the shamba to stay in the group. Each member is strongly encouraged to plant more.

Day 5 (1/13/12) Nakuru

Finally! A woman totally comfortable and talkative and open about her extensive knowledge about farming. Most enlightening was discussion of what she had learned recently that differs from beliefs or practices of her ancestors or neighbors. Touched on religion. Said people used to believe that sin caused weather. Now she says she knows it is not sin: The environment is a product of how we treat it. Older people tend not to believe this, but she said she likes to try to change people's minds so they can improve the environment. Her son loves Makutano Junction. He texted the show to get more information about a lesson once. He wants desperately to be an actor, particularly for Tahidi High, the No.1 show in Kenya. He even knows which character he would write in for himself to create the role. His mother, who I spoke with, asked us to help him contact people in the TV industry. I obliged.