Stories From the Field: A Tale of Two Billboards

By Kate Mannle

Kate Mannle is the Director of Campaigning for Conservation (C4C), a Rare Center for Behavior & the Environment program that offers 10-day social marketing and behavior change trainings in partnership with community organizations around the globe. The following story comes from a training in Kenya with Manor House Agricultural Centre as a part of a series of C4Cs aimed at promoting organic agriculture and biodiversity.

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. C4C participants gathered in the city center of Kitale, the hub of western Kenya’s maize basket, overjoyed at the unveiling of their new campaign billboard. They had worked tirelessly with a local artist over 10 days to create the billboard — an artistic depiction of the benefits of biointensive agriculture, such as more income, greater food security, and a healthier environment. They recited the campaign slogan and call to action they had created just days earlier based on research conducted in the farming communities. They noticed the billboard’s inclusion of small details that had been added following focus group testing with Kitale farmers. They hoped that their billboard would bring new interest to training in organic biointensive agriculture in the area.

But a literal shadow loomed over their smiling faces. A chemical pesticide company had also put up a billboard in the city center that was easily 10 times the size of theirs. As the C4C participants stared up at the massive commercial billboard promoting the use of chemicals, they looked back to their own and realized the enormity of the task that lay before them in promoting organic agriculture in Kenya.

It had been a long and fulfilling 10 days, and there was still a lot to celebrate. They had learned about behavior change and social marketing theory, conducted quantitative and qualitative research, developed a campaign strategy, created a number of campaign materials, and now shared them in the local community. After taking a group photo with their billboard, participants returned to Manor House to complete their workshop evaluations and the final tasks of the C4C training.

Suddenly, they heard the sharp ping of a text message.

David Mwangi Karugo, the Acting Director of Manor House, had received his first text request to sign-up for an organic agriculture training, only a few hours after unveiling the billboard in Kitale. The text was from a community leader in the neighboring Uasin Gishu county who asked how he could get his community involved. In particular, he praised the campaign slogan: “Tunza udondo kwa shibe na mali (Take care of your soil and it will take care of you).” David finished reading the text out loud to the group, and everyone cheered. Perhaps hope wasn’t so out of reach.

Over the next month, Manor House received a flood of inquiries regarding trainings, including a group that came all the way from South Sudan. By taking the time to understand their audience’s needs, barriers, and benefits as related to the new behavior, the group was able to create a messaging strategy that resonated with farmers in Trans-Nzoia County and surrounding areas despite the massive competition from big chemical companies.

Now nine months after the C4C training, David reports that Manor House has tripled its training enrollments. And for the first time in five years, Manor House is generating revenue from the high demand for farmer trainings in organic biointensive agriculture. They are now looking for ways to continue to scale their social marketing efforts to develop a mobile research tool to support market research across the regional Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (PELUM) network and run another training for members. Who knows what the one-year milestone will bring. Sometimes being small pays off in unexpected ways.

To read updates from the Kenya C4C workshop participants as they work on their campaigns, check out their homepage on the Farming for Biodiversity project here. You can learn more about Campaigning for Conservation here.

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