Can a reality show really deliver aid to Africa? Yes!

“BALLAN, MALI—Mamadou Diarra wields his machete in a calloused hand. Rivulets of sweat roll down the 26-year-old’s face as he hacks a path through a hectare of sun-brittled cornstalks.

It is his first crop and the rains are late.

A mélange of jihadists and insurgents are waging a hide-and-seek war in the north, but farmers in the south are at the centre of Mali’s woes. There aren’t enough of them.”

Marc Ellison for the Toronto Star


This is the opening of an article by award-winning photo-journalist Marc Ellison that was published this week in the Toronto Star.  “Can a reality show really deliver aid to Africa?” highlights our work on an innovative reality radio series in Mali called Daba Kamalen, in Bambara, and FarmQuest, in English. The show was designed to encourage youth to consider farming as a profitable business, and not just a means of subsistence, by following  six young candidates competing to be named “best new farmer.”

Ellison’s article focuses on 26-year-old FarmQuest candidate Mamadou Diarra. After leaving school at the age of 14 because his family could not afford school fees, Mamadou moved to the capital city of Bamako when he was 15 to find work — but with little success. Unfortunately, experiences like Mamadou’s are all too common in a country where many rural youth associate farming with poverty and expect that city life holds more promise than an agricultural career closer to home.

Because of ideas like these, young farmers are in short supply not only in Mali, but in many other African countries as well. But what can be done to change the perception among youth that agriculture isn’t a feasible way to make a living? Our first step was to start a conversation about the potential of farming for younger generations through the power of radio. With FarmQuest reaching almost 100,000 people in the Fana region, we knew that youth were going to hear the message.

Seven months have passed since Mamadou learned that he was chosen to be part of the FarmQuest reality radio series, and much has changed since then. He now aims his sights high and wants to become  the region’s first corn seed producer.

It was when I received the seeds and plough that Daba Kamalen gave me the self-belief to succeed. Young people in my village now come to me for advice. It’s nice to be valued. They want to know how they can become a successful farmer like me.”

There are often “intangibles” that are hard to quantify in successful development projects. With FarmQuest, one of these was helping youth, who once wouldn’t have anything to do with the line of work of their parents and grandparents, to see the opportunities in their communities with new eyes. FarmQuest helped its young contestants and listeners to break the stigma attached to one of the most important jobs in the world, to take risks and learn from failures, and to trust in the knowledge of elders and local experts — who know full well that agriculture can be one of the best careers for a young Malian.

Heartfelt thanks go out to Marc Ellison for the great piece in the Toronto Star and for his exemplary work with our team in Mali.  Read the full article in the Toronto Star.

To read more about the FarmQuest project, please visit the project page.

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