Agricultural Reality Stars

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 theInternational 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 itsFood 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 theDanish 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.

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