Kenya's farm makeover show, Shamba Shape-Up, offers practical advice to smallholders

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Kenya's farm makeover show, Shamba Shape-Up, offers practical advice to smallholders

©IFAD/Susan Beccio

Benjamin Kemboi, 32 years old, 4 children, a young farmer in Kamboi village, Rift valley, Kenya. He started farming in 2007, after having casual employment that left him hungry and without a tangible future. “In 2006, I decided to leave my job and learn to dairy farm, I am now making a lot more money than when I was employed.” He received training and a small loan from the project and started farming with 2 cows which produced 4.5 litres of milk each per day.

7 MAY 2014 – With the fourth and latest series of Shamba Shape-Up – Kenya's most watched agriculture TV show – well under way, IFAD staff have been talking to smallholder farmers about a range of practical issues, from cow care and livestock resilience to climate-change adaption.
The show, which airs on Citizen TV on weekends, is watched by over 10 million people, most of whom are farmers looking for information on how to grow their farms into successful long-term businesses. (Shamba is Swahili for 'farm'.) Over the course of the series, IFAD – one of the partners involved in the production – will be looking at a variety of questions, many of which have been raised by farmers in need of advice.

Aimed at East Africa's rapidly growing rural audience, the makeover-style programme aims to give farmers the tools they need to improve their productivity and income. The Shape-Up team visit a different farm each week, along with experts from partner organizations who specialize in the topics to be covered in the episode.

Boosting milk production in Rift Valley

In the first episode of the current series, the crew travelled to Rongai, in Kenya's Rift Valley Province, to visit Gideon and Alice, a farming couple whose cows were struggling to produce milk. In fact, the couple were getting a meagre two litres per cow each day. However, with the help of IFAD expert Paul Njagi, they were able to raise daily milk production to 25 litres.

The reason for this staggering increase, as Njagi suggested, was food. A protein-rich diet is key for cows to produce milk. They can get protein from green grass during the rainy season, but once the rains have ended, the lush and nutritious grass goes with them. To counteract this loss, farmers must make up the protein from other sources, such as fish meal, prepared feeds, fodder from plants like Napier grass, and milk supplements.

The couple were also advised to sell many of their crossbred, low-producing cows and buy a few high-value, high-producing breeds, such as Ayrshire, Guernsey or Jersey cows. In Kenya, it is the number of cows, not their productivity, that equates with higher status. With IFAD's help, attitudes towards this issue are slowly beginning to change.

Preventing soil erosion in Embu

In another episode, filmed in Embu County, IFAD and the Shape-Up team helped Kioko, a young farmer who was facing difficulties. With heavy rains and strong winds, much of Kioko's precious topsoil had been washed away. Soil erosion is a dire problem in many areas Kenya and is often the main reason for a crop's failure.

Alfred Micheni of the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), which receives funding from IFAD, talked to Kioko and other farmers about the importance of terracing. Creating terraces preserves the soil and stops it from being washed away, he explained. Micheni also suggested planting fodder trees within the terraces to further stabilize the soil. Few farmers in Kenya see the value of farming trees – a misconception that IFAD and KARI are keen to change. Besides enriching the soil, trees provide shelter, shade, firewood, timber and fodder for animals, which can be sold at a profit.

To learn more about the effects of soil erosion and how to combat it, as well as other IFAD issues covered by Shamba Shape-Up, you can watch the latest episodes online.