These are great for mobilising much-needed global interest and action in efforts to protect this finite resource on which our lives depend (even the White House posted a blog on ‘Why soil rocks’ last week).
But it is small scale farmers who suffer the effects of land degradation and poor soil health the most – and, as guardians of 80 per cent of the world’s farmland, it is they who are most in need of affordable and practical solutions to protect their soil.
Research plays an important role in this – analysing the effects of climate change on soil or the causes of degradation and erosion, and testing different options to determine best-bet solutions for farmer circumstances.
But how do research results get into farmer’s hands?
In East Africa, scientists are turning to television…
Now in its fifth series, Kenya’s popular make-over TV series, Shamba Shape-Up, is a well-oiled machine.
Filmed in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda and broadcast to an estimated audience of more than eight million, the premise is simple: take one ‘shamba’ (farm in Swahili) and its owner, two lively presenters and a series of experts in different fields, and you have a show that appeals to a large per cent of the population who rely on the land for their living.
Thanks to CGIAR Research Programs Water Land and Ecosystems (WLE) and Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), this season five farmers in Kenya and Tanzania received first hand advice from soil experts on how to protect and improve the health of their soil. And, on Saturday (28 March), millions of farmers across Kenya tuned in to learn practical measures that they can employ on their own farms.
This week, the action took place in Bomet, Western Kenya. While the terrain and climate in the area differs from other parts of the country, the challenges faced by young farmers Ruth and Peter, who rely on five acres of land to support them, their six children and their livestock, are reflected across the continent. Watch the episode here.
“We have to focus on our soils,” says CIAT soil scientist John Mukalama, brought in to offer Ruth and Peter advice on managing their soil. “We depend on them for our livelihoods.”
He continues: “Soil erosion takes all good soils from farms when it isn’t managed well”, pointing to areas where Ruth and Peter are losing their top soil to rain water runoff. “The soil is washed into rivers and pollutes them, so people depending on that water are getting poor quality water.”
Coincidentally, the problem is almost identical to that addressed by the Tana-Nairobi Water Fund launched by The Nature Conservancy, CIAT and other partners last week, where CIATs research is also funded by WLE.
During the five episodes, which will be broadcast in Tanzania and Kenya between March and July 2015, soil experts from CIAT and Tanzanian partners Selian Agricultural Research Institute (SARI), offer farmers practical climate-smart advice including: how to use trees, terracing and grass strips to protect their soil from erosion; and crop rotation, manure and organic matter to improve soil fertility and health.
Shamba Shape Up, produced by Mediae, was first developed in Kenya to take practical agricultural improvements directly to farmers and has now expanded to Uganda and Tanzania.
WLE and CCAFS sponsored five episodes of the current series for CIAT, which has the biggest team of soils experts in the CGIAR Consortium, to focus on the importance of soil management and offer farmers practical solutions to protecting and improving the health of their soils.
The episodes and will be available on YouTube after each broadcast and viewers of each episode can request a free leaflet or to ask questions about agricultural information they learned during the program. These messages are managed on Mediae’s database, to which partners have access. The database currently has over 80,000 registered Shamba Shape Up viewers, including their contact details and locations, to whom over 100,000 leaflets have been sent on request since March 2012.
Research shows that Shamba Shape Up works. In a 2014 Mediae survey, 87% of smallholders who watched the series said they had learned something new, and 45% had adopted at least some of the practices demonstrated — most commonly methods for improving soil fertility. To find out more about the programmes impacts visit CCAFS and Shamba Shape Up.
Episodes in Kenya were filmed in English and Swahili and will be broadcast on Citizen TV. The English version will be broadcast on Saturday’s at 1.30 pm. The Swahili show will be broadcast on Sunday’s at 1.30pm. Dates of CIAT episodes: 28 March, 6 June and 18 July. The Tanzanian episodes will be broadcast in Kenya on 16 May and 13 June.
The two Tanzanian episodes were filmed in Swahili and will have English subtitles. They will be broadcast on Friday evenings on 3 April and 13 June.
The UN has declared 2015 as the International Year of Soils to raise awareness of the urgent need to protect the resource that feeds and waters us. Find out how CIATs global soils research team of soil scientists, ecologists and anthropologists are working with partners to protect and restore this vital resource.