Joseph is a Kenyan farmer, and he is harvesting his crop in cyberspace.
Joseph is taking the lead in growing a fraternity of people interested in agriculture through Facebook. Mkulima Young – “Young Farmer” in Swahili- the page he set up in January this year, has now gained 23,789 likes and continues to grow.
Almost 75 percent of working Kenyans make their living by farming. Agriculture continues to be the country’s most dominant economic driver in terms of Gross Domestic Product and employment rate.
Hailing from a peasant family, Joseph Macharia never really liked tilling the field like his father. He went to high school, achieved good grades in Biology and Agriculture and became a high school teacher.
Seven years later, Joseph walks confidently to the podium and faces a full house at the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) in Warsaw, Poland. No one from the audience would guess the magnitude of the impact his singlehanded efforts make in engaging African youth with a career that many of them used to consider totally un-“like”-able: farming.
“My mother cannot read or write,” Joseph says. “But she has a mobile phone and she knows how to use it. This is the age of technology. We should evolve with the times,” he continues, confidently addressing the house.
He goes on to speak about his experience in using social media to engage youth for agricultural productivity. “I did not want to wake up early morning to go to the field, so I opened a Facebook page aimed at agriculture instead. I posted famous quotes, put up attractive images of funny watermelon carvings and inboxed my friends telling them to like the page,” says Joseph.
Today, Joseph’s Facebook page is on the verge of hitting the 24,000 “likes” mark. The page engages young and not-so-young farmers who discuss farming techniques, crop varieties, soil productivity and seasonal yields. What’s more, Joseph’s Twitter account attracts followers as diverse as scientists, policy makers, members of Parliament and the international Research for Development fraternity.
The national and international media, hungry to feature the vibrant success stories appearing every so often on Joseph’s Facebook page, take Kenyan farming from the African region to the rest of world through their enthusiastic exposure. International non- governmental organizations such as the Young Professionals’ Platform for Agricultural Research for Development (YPARD), ICT for Ag and the Technical Center for Agriculture and Rural Cooperation (CTA) sponsor and support Joseph and his small team in participatory dialogue at international agricultural events.
“I have a small team assisting me with the various social media tools we use under the brand Mkulima Young,” Joseph explains. “They go out to rural Kenya with a camera and an audio recorder and interview farmers, record their grievances and report on success stories. We have a number of remarkable video stories on our Youtube channel.” Joseph adding that his camera man, IT support staff and Social Media moderators are all young farmers.
Joseph’s attempts to reach out to rural farmers with minimal access to internet and low awareness on social media is also proving to be successful. Mkulima Young’s weekly radio broadcast hosted by a national radio channel in Kenya serves as a traditional media extension of its social media origins.
The radio program hosts the Mkulima Young Champion of the Week competition every week. Samson Ndungu is a winner from October of this year. A young farmer from rural Kenya, Samson tells the story of how he was able to increase crop yield 10 fold by calling in on the radio program and clarifying his questions on growing cabbages in clay soil. He depicts the success story by telling how he was finally able to own a new motor bike after years of renting one on a restricted income flow.
Joseph Macharia, the Kenyan Facebook farmer, has proven that social media can not only engage, build dialogue, create opportunities and bring together fragmented communities but also make individual and national dreams come true.
Blog by Miuru Jayaweera, Communication Officer at IWMI and social reporter for GLF 2013
Photo: N. Palmer (IWMI)