Agricultural Reality Stars

Washington, DC - While farmers and researchers are coming up with more sustainable and innovative ways to farm across the globe, it’s not always easy for the information to be shared or accessed.  Many organizations are taking a new approach to expand access by broadcasting through creative and non-traditional media outlets.

Now, attention-grabbing information is reaching new audiences, and agricultural innovations are successfully reaching the world’s smallest and most remote farming communities.

When agricultural themes and messages are woven into popular reality shows, song lyrics, radio broadcasts, and comic books, information becomes more accessible and relatable.  For example, young generations are becoming more interested in agriculture through hip hop songs, TV shows following the lives of young food producers, and stories of farmer “superheroes.” This media is reaching a widespread audience, creating a passion for farming, and delivering vital new technologies to farmers who need them most.

Watching television is one of the world’s most popular past times, and farm-themed shows are starting to air in several countries. In the United Kingdom, Channel 4’s First Time Farmers series chronicles youth who are trying their hand at the family business. According to the show, “a new generation of farmers is breathing life into the agricultural world, balancing hard work with finding time for love, laughter, and partying.” This is especially important for future food production since the average age of U.K. farmers is 58 years.

In Kenya, farmers have used the reality show format to create a successful series, Shamba Shape-Up. “Shamba” means “farm” in Swahili, and the show is best thought of as “Extreme Makeover: Farm Edition.” In each episode, experts from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) visit farms in need of a helping hand, giving both farmers and viewers the tools they need to improve productivity and increase income on their farms. The show has become very popular, attracting 11 million viewers around East Africa. During each episode, viewers are prompted to send in their address to obtain a free pamphlet on that week’s topics. 

In the United States, media is being used to familiarize the public with agriculture and food production. This year, Chipotle produced a four-part webisode comedy series called Farmed and Dangerous as part of its Food with Integrity campaign. The series explores “the outrageously twisted and utterly unsustainable world of industrial agriculture” through a satirical glimpse at industrial food production. The series aims to make people think about the origins of their food. 

Chipotle isn’t the first to explore U.S. industrial food production through online shorts. The Meatrix exposed factory farming through a clever cartoon spoof of the popular movie The Matrix. In the short, one humble pig chooses to follow Moo-pheus and break out of the false reality of the Meatrix; he learns that most meats come from animals confined in warehouses, rather than from animals who once frolicked around family farms. The film went viral in November 2003 and has since been translated into 30 languages. 

Radio can reach remote communities as well as offer information and entertainment to a large group of people. In Vietnam Hanh Trinh Xanh, meaning “The Green Journey,” is a 100-episode radio soap opera series that was broadcast from 2011 to 2013. Developed by Voice of Vietnam (VOV) in partnership with the Population Media Center and the Danish International Development Agency, Hanh Trinh Xanh chronicles four families living in different regions of the country as they adapt their agricultural practices to climate change. Through dramatic and scandalous plot lines, listeners are easily engaged as they learn about sustainable practices. After each episode, listeners are encouraged to engage with VOV about their personal agricultural challenges via text message. 

In Ghana, Farm Radio International and the German Technical Cooperation (GIZ) recently launched an eight month radio program on Star 89.7 FM broadcasting in Primukyeae, a farming community in the Atebubu-Amantin district in which 55 percent of the population is actively involved in agriculture. The series will help educate farmers on the effects of climate change and how to adapt to it. District Chief Executive Sampson Owusu Boateng stressed, “It is important that the interrelationship between climate change and agricultural production is made available to [farmers] to guide them in their farming activities.” 

Farm Radio Network began in the 1950s in Canada as a way to spread agricultural awareness, address the needs of farmers, and help farmers exchange information. Since then, the Network has expanded to 500 participating broadcasters in almost 100 countries, over half of which are in Latin America and the Caribbean. For example, a gardener in South Africa was able to experiment with a bamboo irrigation system developed by a farmer in Thailand after hearing about it on the local radio station. 

Comic books draw young readers in with graphic, fast-paced plots. The popular ShujaazFM series in Kenya follows the lives of four young people in an effort to empower other young people to be heroes in their communities. The issues aim to educate and entertain Kenyan youth on nutrition, planting maize seeds, and the role they can play in society. 

Comic books can also be used to highlight the lives of future farmers and agricultural innovations. In Japan, the newest comic craze is farming manga. The popular Silver Spoon comic series takes place at an agricultural high school in Hokkaido and features a cast of aspiring farmers who make sake and explore the culinary world. The series has sold 15 million copies over the past three years, making it one of Japan’s most successful comics, and was also recently released as a feature film. 

Music also captivates a younger audience and makes agricultural education more hip. DJ Cavem is teaching kids how to grow greens through hip hop. He’s produced three international albums inspiring kids to be “gardeners not gangstas.” His music teaches kids about the produce section at the grocery store and attempts to change the way they look at fruits and vegetables.

Others, like Rock Star Farms in Georgia, use music to captivate the global community and educate about local foods. Paul Diaz, founder of Tree Sounds Studios and Rock Star Farms, creates hip hop music on topics such as the environment, biodynamics, and being a beet farmer. In Bordeaux, France architects are merging ecosystems and music together in La Ferme Musicale. This vertical farm and cultural center was created to address health, food, and ethical concerns in the community while bringing community members together to celebrate food and music. 

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