Researchers Working to Improve Livelihoods of Farmers in Kenya

Posted on: October 28, 2014

PastedGraphic-WPTwo Department of Media and Information faculty members have been awarded $99,787 by USAID's Development Innovation Ventures to produce and pilot educational and entertaining ("edutaining") short films to increase cell phone literacy among smallholder farmers in Kenya.

Led by Assistant Professor Susan Wyche as principal investigator (PI) and Professor Charles Steinfield as co-PI, the project aims to increase device literacy and the effectiveness of mobile applications that send weather reports, best agricultural practices and crop pricing information, with an ultimate goal of improving the livelihoods of rural farmers in Kenya.

Delivering pertinent information to smallholder farmers via mobile phones has the potential to help them grow more crops and make more money. Yet despite the tremendous value of mobile applications, only 5 percent of smallholder farmers in Kenya use these services.

wyche-susan-main2Findings from Wyche and Steinfield's ongoing research in Western Kenya through MSU's USAID funded Global Center for Food Systems Innovation (GCFSI) suggest that device illiteracy is one of the primary reasons mobile applications are not widely used. Many smallholder farmers, especially women, do not know how to perform the basic handset operations needed to take advantage of these services.

"Women must know how to send text messages and perform other basic operations using their mobile phones before they can benefit from the mobile services that target them," Wyche said.

The project, "Simu Shape Up: Edutainment to Shape Up Cell Phone Use Among African Rural Farmers," will be implemented in partnership with The Mediae Company, the East African producers of "Shamba Shape Up," a Kenyan reality TV show about rural farm makeovers. The show, now in its fifth season, provides an existing, cost-effective and scaleable multimedia communication platform that can be used to deliver tailored and factual "edutaining" content to an existing audience of 11 million and to monitor impact.

The pilot shorts will be initially developed in collaboration with and for rural Swahili-speaking women, starting in Western Kenya. To test the effectiveness of the shorts, they will be integrated into the regular TV broadcasts of "Shamba Shape Up" and aired independently via alternative methods to reach off-grid households. The broadcasts with the mobile phone content are planned for January 2015.

charles-steinfield_main2Based on the project's mixed-method evaluation focusing on adoption of new handset practices, increasing mobile agricultural service subscriptions, and monitoring online viewer feedback via the show's Facebook page, Wyche and Steinfield will further develop the project and scale the shorts to reach audiences throughout East Africa and across the continent.

Wyche's research focuses on the appropriation of mobile phones and social media by individuals and groups in Africa. Steinfield serves as the ICT4D (Information and Communication Technologies for Development) lead in the GCFSI.

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