Toiling in manure was the last thing Leah Wangari wanted to do. She imagined being a flight attendant or fashion tycoon, not a farmer. But the 28-year-old Kenyan changed her mind after appearing on an unusual reality TV show, the first of its kind in Africa.
Don’t Lose the Plot is a program from Mediae Company. Mediae addresses the needs of East Africans through entertainment and educational programming options, including cooking shows, children’s literacy programs, and a farm makeover series.
Don’t Lose the Plot features contestants from Kenya and neighboring Tanzania. Competitors receive plots of land to cultivate. Local farming experts help guide them through a nine-month struggle with irrigation, insects, plant selection, and so on. The most fruitful farmer takes home $10,000. But Mediae hopes there’s another takeaway for viewers and contestants.
Attracting people to agriculture is difficult in Africa. Producers of the show must battle bias against farm-related careers. The booming young population doesn’t relish the image of hard work and poor, weather-beaten farmers.
“Most young Africans think of farming as back-breaking labor that pays peanuts,” says former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, himself a farmer.
Obasanjo believes Africa’s youth—about 65% of the population—must venture into food production in order to change the continent’s future. Even if it is hard work, the principle squares with what the Bible warns. “A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich” (Proverbs 10:4)—no matter where in the world one lives.
Through the reality show, Mediae wants to inspire East African youth to pursue agribusiness—farming that operates on sound business principles. Producer Patricia Gichinga hopes “first to show people that you can make money out of farming.” The show’s producers also seek to show farming as fun, proving to young people “that they can use their mobile [phones] and technology in order to farm and achieve their goals.”
The country needs a flood of young farmers to “change the age profile of farmers in Africa” says Gichinga.
Right now, the average age of farmers in Africa is 60 years old. Leah Wangari is doing her part to bring the average down. Despite placing last in Don’t Lose the Plot, she became a full-time mushroom grower. And even after a run-in with mites from a nearby chicken house, she’s already harvested her first crop.
Wangari sees the value of her newfound occupation. She says, “When I see young men in the village now sitting idle, I feel disappointed.”