Case study

DFID Research: Comic-book characters help to get agricultural information to young Kenyans

ShujaazFM is a multimedia youth communication initiative combining comic books, radio, and social media aimed at young people across Kenya.

Image from the article in the comic about vaccination of chickens.
Image from the article in the comic about vaccination of chickens. Picture: Shujaaz.

Launched in February 2010, ShujaazFM is a multimedia youth communication initiative which combines monthly comic books, daily radio programmes, and social media to look at a range of issues affecting young people across Kenya. The comics are distributed as inserts in the Nation newspaper and through a network of traders working for Safaricom, the mobile phone company.

The DFID-funded Research Into Use (RIU) programme provides support to the magazine to ensure agricultural information is made available to the young.

The following key numbers are a mark of its reach:

  • More than 5 million copies of ShujaazFM have carried an agricultural story
  • ShujaazFM has more than 10,000 Facebook fans
  • Up to 2,000 SMS messages are received each month, most addressed to the character DJ Boyie or DJB
  • ShujaazFM is Kenya’s only home-grown comic book. Evidence from SMS traffic suggests that comics continue to circulate to new readers for at least 10 months after publication. The comic is read in every district in Kenya

Keith Sones of the RIU communications team said: “RIU was an early investor in Shujaaz. We thought it had great potential and now, one year on, our judgement seems to have been vindicated. By having comic book characters who also appear on the radio and who can be engaged with via social media, Shujaaz has built a great deal of affinity and a loyal following amongst its core audience - millions of young Kenyans. Judging from the SMS messages that come in even months after the Shujaaz comic is first published, RIU is realising a great return on a very modest investment.

Even DFID’s Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Stephen O’Brien, mentioned the comic during a parliamentary debate on food security in Africa, so its influence has gone much further than we dared hope.”

Recently completed audience research suggests that 1.1 million 18 to 35 year olds in Kenya have read the ShujaazFM comic, but the total readership is likely to be much higher. The findings are based on results obtained through a nationwide telephone survey carried out in August 2010, when 4,001 interviews were conducted with 18 to 35 year olds. The sample was corrected to reflect national demographics such as urban/rural, gender and age.

Because of Kenya’s data protection regulations, the telephone survey could only reach people who were 18 years and above. To provide additional information on younger readers a complementary household survey was also carried out in five locations: for this a sample of 910 randomly selected respondents between the age of 13 to 24 years were interviewed in Nairobi, Mombasa, Nakuru, Eldoret and Meru. Although these findings are not necessarily representative of the entire country they provide valuable additional information about ShujaazFM’s readership.

The household survey revealed that 22% of the 13 to 18 year olds polled spontaneously mentioned ShujaazFM when asked which Kenyan comics or cartoons they knew. Of these, 94% said they read ShujaazFM and of these 95% could name at least one ShujaazFM character. The study estimated that on average five people read each copy of ShujaazFM . At the time of the survey 600,000 copies were being distributed. Rob Burnet of ShujaazFM believes that very few of these copies are wasted - even if the initial recipient does not read it, copies are passed on and recycled at various points along the disposal chain and “even comics going to the dump are read by rag-pickers”. Assuming each copy is read by 5 readers, that suggests a total readership of up to 3 million.

Two story lines were found to have particular impact on ShujaazFM readers: vaccinating chickens and soaking seeds prior to sowing, both included through support from RIU.

Commenting on the results, Rob Burnet, the social entrepreneur behind ShujaazFM , said: “Obviously we are really excited by these findings, which go far beyond even our highest hopes. It shows that the medium is working. And it’s a great pay-back to our first set of partners - including RIU, GTZ, Safaricom, Twaweza, Nation and others - who were willing to take a chance with us when we launched last year. We’ve learned a lot of lessons from this research, and we’re growing stronger and bigger and better in 2011!”

See the all new ShujaazFM website and the project record for the DFID-funded RIU Programme

Published 24 February 2011