David Campbell: Producer with a magic lens

The Mediae Company director David Campbell and editor Sarah Mollie Wanaga. Photo/Salaton Njau
The Mediae Company director David Campbell and editor Sarah Mollie Wanaga. Photo/Salaton Njau 

He produces shows which run into millions of shillings.  He is one of the most heavily funded producers of local programmes in the country.

His first single sponsorship for the Shamba Shape Up show, a farm makeover reality TV show, was Sh68 million — tens of times above what producers of other local famed shows earn, but David Campbell, the director and 40 per cent shareholder of Mediae Company still maintains a simple lifestyle, only concerned about the next job which needs to be done.

His local productions have revolutionised the television and radio industry in Kenya. But even with the successes of his famed productions such as Tembea na Majira, a radio soap on social issues aired on the then VOK (Voice of Kenya) and later the state TV (KBC) until 2004; Makutano Junction, Know Zone and now Shamba Shape Up (SSP), a farming reality show that airs on the weekend on one of the local TV stations, David remains modest, discerning and full of ideas despite the cash he handles.

He doesn’t deny he has a way with weighty donor and corporate cash; however he insists it’s all for a good cause - to offer information to rural farmers in an educative and entertaining manner.

His shows cost money and whoever wants a mention on it has to spend it too. It cost Sh1.7million ($20, 000) to get mentions in six episodes.

“That is what we need to do, get money and invest in local production. A huge proportion of people are not getting information from media. Look at the numbers of people on TV,” David points out.

David is currently planning for Sh42.2million for his next productions - a figure that doesn’t come easily for other producers. He is short but will hopefully get the amount because of the popularity of the programmes he airs.

He walks BDLife down memory lane back to when he was just eight years and the roots that got him to the sponsors’ good books.

Born in Uganda in 1950, David had his career path marked out very early. He wanted to follow the family legacy and be a farmer in England on their family farm.

Lots of friends

David had no two ways about it. It was all about finishing his primary education in South Africa, and jetting off to England for secondary and university education.

“I never had questions about it, I knew I would study agriculture at University of Reading and work at the farm,” he says. 

University of Reading was a landmark for David; it wasn’t only the institution that got his father’s career moving as the deputy director of agriculture in Uganda and later director of agriculture in the British protectorate of South Africa for 10 years, but the place where his parents met and fell in love.

Most of his Kenyan friends, who he would later visit in 1970 while a student, also studied at the same university.

“I had lots of friends from Kenya who studied at Reading. While in school, I travelled here and really liked Kenya compared to other African countries I had visited,” David recalls.

It was his second visit to Kenya (he first passed through on his way to South Africa from Uganda with his family) that opened his mind to the lives of farmers and their lack of information.

“I came to the conclusion that it wasn’t a question of not being capable of improving agriculture for the African families I stayed with during my trip but it was because they had never been given the information they needed to do well,” David notes. 

This revelation is what sparked his interest in communication - the desire that saw him establish Mediae, a social enterprise and edutainment production house in Kenyan in 1997.

“I thought I must go back and study media. At that time - in 1970, the only course I could get was called typography and graphic communications, still at Reading. The course was about how to use print to educate and inform people,” he remembers.

The course was pretty much in the area he wanted to work in.  To begin with, David decided to write his dissertation on communicating with semi-literates using print.

On completion of his course, he got employed by Royal Agricultural Society of England. Here, his work involved use of audio visual to communicate with farmers, building more ground for his career in media.

“My idea was that if you were going to use print to support development, you had to know how to use pictures to educate people. Because in the early days, I knew radio and print were used,” he explains.

David later got a job with the British development agency -DFID where he worked for 18 years before starting his own production house.

Two of his achievements were the establishment of an agriculture information centre in Kenya and radio programmes on farming.

To date, he’s been in Kenya for his 35 years and sees himself staying for a while more. He is not sure about moving back to England - all that matters to him is to keep going with the tonnes of work at Mediae.

Fast forward to today; David is hardly defined by his work. To most people who bump into him in public places, he is just a mzungu (white man) in Nairobi.

However, David is not bothered that he doesn’t enjoy the same popularity as his programmes - as long as the message is communicated and understood by a huge rural and pre-urban audience.

His goal has always been clear and one he strives to meet as he develops his content - to reach people with information in the most educative and entertaining way. 

Eight million listeners

Tembea na Majira was the first programme David did in Kenya. Aired on Sundays at 8pm in state radio, it was a crowd puller with eight million listeners. But 12 years later, the numbers dropped to two million, revealing two important things for David.

“The first thing was fragmentation and licensing of many radio stations — currently 130 stations— meant prime time is spilt in two -morning and evening, making it unfavourable for education.

Secondly, television in the rural areas had grown tremendously with the coming of the Great Wall of China TV set. Statistics indicated 46 per cent of rural folks in 2004 owned TVs,” notes David.

This was the point at which David transitioned to TV with his first show Makutano Junction to capture the peri-urban, urban and rural areas of Kenya highlighting a number social of issues.

“The growth of TV in the rural areas had continued and we realised if we had to get development moving, we had to reach those in the cash economy,” he adds. Agriculture by this time was no longer a big thing too.

“When we put Makutano Junction on KBC, we had funding for research from DFID for they were interested in local productions. KBC as a station was also interested in what we were doing. When the boss at that time moved stations, he made the decision that local drama was the winner and took us along,” David remembers.

Mediae is today known for crowd-pulling shows that have helped media houses bring advertisers on board.  The show gets free broadcasts. They have also won international awards.

This year, their reality farmers’ show – Shamba Shape UP was voted by Bill &Melinda Gates among seven top Innovations on Agriculture development globally. They also won a millennium development goal award for media.

“The whole model is about meeting audience information needs while also entertaining them,” David says.

The show has become a must-watch for farmers in the rural areas attracting 70 per cent viewership countrywide. David has gone ahead to engage the farmers through research and truly it has served the need.

“We have Interviewed 300,000 farmers who watch SSP and who made change on their farming methods from watching our programme.

The total number of farmers who watch SSP and could make a change were 1.67 million of which 600, 000 said they had made a change, 156,000 said they had made a change in soil fertility — use of fertiliser, representing 26 per cent change in soil fertility,” he reads from his compiled research at his office in Karen.

The change means there has been 4.2 to 7.6 bags increase per yield per acre on maize farms.

“That is too low because with fertilizer, you can easily double the yield. This means we are talking small holder not so competent farmers,” he says.

His research further reveals the net worth of yield from farmers who made changes.

Given that the average price per bag of maize was Sh2, 975 (USD35) last year. If 156,000 households increased their sales of maize which they got by Sh7, 395 (USD87) the average for the 300, 000 farmers) they got Sh1.17 billion (USD13. 75million) increase in value of maize produced
“as a result of using fertilizer because of watching SSP,” David insists. 

“Only eight per cent of farmers used fertilizer for the first time. It’s not a big change, but what you’ve got to realise is the reach of media in Kenya to be able to make changes. This is what people have to realise,” he adds.

David enjoys cordial relationship with donors. They like his ideas and they have always given him grants running into thousands of dollars for his productions. 

On the first season of Shamba Shape UP, Mediae received Sh68million ($800,000) from African Enterprise Challenge Fund (AECF). Other sponsors for the show are Africa Soil Health Consortium, soil fertility group; IFDC (International Fertilizer Development Center), CABI (Centre for Agricultural Bioscience International), FSD Kenya, Cooper K-Brands Ltd and Syngenta.

Digital migration

“The reason we have these agro firms with us is that they have reliable products in wide circulation and readily available to farmers in all corners of the country,” says David.

This also holds the future for digital migration. “If you go with local content that people can relate to, you will move with a big audience to digital media,” he adds.

Farmers are seconded to the programme by funders from key input groups. Others are viewers who write in. As begins the same productions for Ethiopia, Sudan, Zambia, South Africa, Malawi and America; and develops his Know Zone children’s programme for Rwanda, David has this tip for farmers:

“Farmers have to think about agriculture as a business. They need to open bank accounts. How can we ensure people are credit rated? How we can loan them money to improve their farms?

He urges support for using phone and power bills, Mpesa transactions or Chama memberships to rate farmers credit viability. However, loans need to be subsidised until the farmers start to bank their money and are able to borrow loans. 

“We are looking at doing something on financial literacy in our next show with funding from financial institutions.  But for now, get yourself credit rated, get yourself a bank account,” he concludes.