Innovation of the Week: Teaching Sustainable Agriculture Through Comics

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By: Kaia E. Clarke

Young Kenyans are excited about the new comic book series “ShujaazFM” which means ‘heroes’ in Sheng, a combination of Swahili and English.  Through a free monthly insert in the Saturday Nation newspaper, a daily syndicated FM radio and TV program, youth are learning sustainable agriculture practices from protecting chickens from New Castle disease to fish farming. Lessons from DJ B or DJ Boyie the main character, along with characters Malkie, Charlie, and Maria Kim, are expected to reach approximately 12 million readers a month.

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The RIU ShujaazFM Youth Communication Initiative is impacting many youth on innovative and sustainable agricultural practices. (Photo Credit: Bernard Pollack)

According to a  recent United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) report, ShujaazFM distributed more than 5 million copies that carried an agricultural story. The comic has 10, 000 Facebook fans, over 500 followers on Twitter, and receives up to 2, 000 SMS messages a month. Paul Peter Kades, the voice of the popular character DJ B, says, “I’m excited, I’m proud, I’m honored to be part of this team.”

This comic series may not feature the traditional comic superheroes like, Batman and Robin or Superman, but in developing countries where agriculture is essential to survival, ShujaazFM is a hero.  Each edition of the comic book includes a story about an innovative agricultural technique along with an illustrative step-by-step guide that is helpful for all ages. The ShujaazFM story lines are seasonal and give tips on fruit drying, improving crops, and seed selection. One reader told DJ Boykie, Hi DJ Boyie, I learned and planted sukuma (kale) in a sack and it has provided us with food during the dry season.”

The ShujaazFM Youth Communication Initiative is one development from the Research into Use (RIU) project funded by the DFID. It is a partnership between Farm Input Promotions Africa Ltd. (FIPS-Africa) and Well Told Story, a Nairobi-based communication company. Rob Burnet, from Well-Told Story developed the comic book and uses real research from FIPS-Africa to create the agriculture story lines.

As the Director of Research into Use, Ian Mauldin’s goal is to improve lives in the developing world by encouraging researchers to make use of “those dusty volumes of scientific journals.”

In an interview with RIUtv Mauldin states, “There are 2.5 billion people in the world who are entirely dependent upon agriculture for their livelihood.” Mauldin explains that lack of resources is the problem in these areas but RiU is building capacity for them to be self-sufficient.

The ShujaazFM team’s mission is to create a platform to communicate with the youth in Kenya and teach them how to become heroes in the fight against hunger and poverty.  Not only does ShujaazFM discuss agriculture practices, it helps to enlighten the conversation about gang-awareness and inter-racial violence.

For that reason, the project focuses on regions in the developing world where poverty levels are the highest.  The creation of ShujaazFm comic book is an innovative way to increase productivity, by providing knowledge to the next generation of agriculture producers, and promoting sustainable agricultural development.

Can you think of other ways that important lessons in agriculture can be made more appealing to a younger audience? Let us know in the comments!

To read more on innovation through marketing and media sources, see:  Pencils for Kids, United Nations Proclaims a Year of YouthFarmers of the Future, and Reviving Farmland and Improving Livelihood.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

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