Thursday, July 25, 2013

A Whirlwind Tour of Tanzania: Moshi, Lushoto, Tanga, Pangani, and Morogoro

Dear blog readers,

I am not sure if I can begin to explain the last three weeks, as so much has happened since I last wrote.  I will try my best to recount the events thoroughly for both your reading pleasure and to assist me in remembering my time in Tanzania many months and years from now.   I've realized how multi-functional this blog has been in helping me reflect on my travels, inform my friends and family, and perhaps most importantly: document my findings in a detailed manner.  So fortunately, I have been able to explore much of Tanzania outside the Arusha region, which was exciting, aesthetically stimulating, and broadened my perspectives of agriculture in this large country.  I met up with a fellow Hamilton student, Eren Shultz '15, who is studying economics and agricultural development.  As a Levitt Public Affairs research fellow, he was pursuing a study on the role of cooperatives in Tanzanian agriculture.  We figured our research had enough overlap that it might be nice to travel around a bit together (paired with the fact that this might be my only chance to meet up with friends or family this year), so we met up in Moshi, the town at the foothills of Mt. Kilimanjaro.  

While in Moshi, we visited KNCU (Kilimanjaro Native Cooperative Union) for small-scale coffee farmers in the Kilimanjaro region, and spoke with a public relations officer.  I was pleasantly surprised by her frankness when discussing the company and how she is the only woman who can attend key meetings, as the entire board and management is composed of men.  As is the case with many cash crop industries, women are primarily the laborers, while men still make the money and the decisions.  After our discussion, it seemed that coffee is no different.  We learned that KNCU is comprised of rural primary societies, which are collections of farmers in areas that come together to sell their crops.  KNCU operates in four districts and is a union of 92 primary societies, with 800-1,000 farmers per society roughly, so they work with about 70,000 farmers total.  They have a rich and complex history that dates back well into the 20th century and even during colonial times and pre-WWI.  More specifically, during the era of German colonialism, the government and settlers took ownership of the fertile land and forced the native Tanzanians to cultivate it under poor labor conditions.  However, when Germany lost WWI and all of their colonies, the British acquired Tanzania (then called Tanganyika).  The first district commissioner during British rule said that the natives should be allowed to grow coffee to increase tax revenues.  According to the PR officer, the Chagga people (one of the Kilimanjaro tribes) referred to this commissioner as their "Godfather" who liberated them.  In 1925, these coffee growing Tanzanians formed KNPA (Kilimanjaro Natives Plantation Association), a bit of a precursor to KNCU.  This unification provided them with a way to secure a better price for their coffee, and with the Cooperative Ordinance of 1932, the first 11 primary societies were able to officially register themselves.  In 1933, KNCU was registered as the first cooperative union in Africa and 32 years later, it was an "economic giant" that owned assets such as houses, farms, vehicles, hotels, and schools, which attracted additional primary societies (92 by the 1970s).  However in 1976, then president Julius Nyere abolished cooperatives (including KNCU) because they were becoming a political threat.  This led to the nationalization of all cooperative properties and assets.  Fortunately, KNCU and the Chagga were clever and formed the Kilimanjaro Uremri Corporation and quickly transferred all of their assets to save them from being nationalized and essentially stripped from their possession.  In 1982 when the government reintroduced a new cooperative act, KNCU found themselves ahead of the game, having previously secured their resources.  It was perhaps partially due to pressure from the West, Structural Adjustment Programs, and the World Bank and International Monetary Fund demanding economic liberalization and privatization that led to the reinstatement of cooperatives by the Tanzanian government.  We learned that in 1993, KNCU coffee became fair trade certified and some groups certified organic as well, which can fetch them a higher price on the world market.  Apparently there are certified buyers who want conventionally produced (not organic) coffee grown by fair trade certified producers (fair labor conditions) and also certified buyers who want both certified organic and fair trade.  While organic is expensive (50-60 million per year for the certification process), many farmers find it worthwhile because they can earn higher profits and it is arguably safer and more environmentally-sound.  Regardless of organic or conventional, however, all the coffee producers are incentivized to produce high grade coffees and individual farmers are paid based on quantity and grade (quality).  KNCU offers training programs/agricultural extension services, has partnered with companies to promote maternal and child healthcare, and health insurance schemes related to HIV/AIDS, gender, and nutrition.  This is all well and good, but seeing as we were receiving this information from a public relations officer, it is hard to say what the reality is for farmers at the grassroots level.  And not everything was rosy.  We talked about climate change as well and how production has decreased immensely due to unpredictable rainfall and increasing temperatures in the Kilimanjaro region (in 2011, it hit 38 degrees Celsius in Moshi ~ 108 degrees Fahrenheit), and the majority of farmers cannot afford irrigation schemes.  Moreover, we learned that there is an imbalance of political power between large and small scale producers (duh) and that during the dry season, plantations can easily divert drainage, taking precious water away from small farmers.  Coffee production is undoubtedly influenced by Kilimanjaro, whose ice continues to melt each year.  Mitigation and adaptation strategies are essential and raise questions of the long term sustainability of growing coffee here.  The issue of land rights is a whole other can of worms, but we were told that because the Chagga society is paternal, land is passed down to the men in the family.  Land shortages are becoming more commonplace as a result of population growth and production is hence suffering further.  What's more is that by current law, land is owned by the federal government and most small farmers do not even hold proper titles to demonstrate "ownership."  This issue is of course inextricably linked to land grabs, which is a phenomenon that I have been trying to inquire about wherever I go.  While in Moshi, we were also able to visit KPL (Kilimanjaro Coffee Plantation), perhaps the largest coffee plantation in Tanzania (almost 1.5 million coffee trees replanted recently, more than 1,500 acres).  It is the first site I've visited in Tanzania that is industrialized, large-scale, and for commercial purposes on the world market.  The plantation was guarded like a fortress and I am quite surprised we even managed to secure an appointment.  After waiting nearly three hours to be let in, we were able to interview the production manager and take a tour of the facilities.

It felt like I was at the Willy Wonka factory with chocolate rivers, but alas, just coffee waste

Kilimanjaro in the background

After Moshi, we headed back towards Arusha in the direction of Usa River, where we had an appointment with the Uwamale Cooperative in the village of Lekitatu.  Uwamale is well known for their irrigation scheme, which they developed to enhance rice production.  According to their fact sheet, they are made up of 175 members (119 men and 65 women) and six committees (planning and finance, renovation and maintenance of irrigation systems and roads, education and discipline, marketing, administration/leadership, and "cleanness of furrows and arranging the farmers weekly calendar irrigation committee" (that last one is a mouthful!).  The society aims "to improve the life standards financially and healthy wise to the development of their members; to ensure natural resources, mainly water, are not disturbed by human activities; to educate members/farmers on improved agriculture and irrigation; to network members/farmers with other stakeholders on improved agriculture; and to ensure good markets."  They also listed six challenges: global warming and changing weather, lack of farm inputs/implements, lack of improved markets for crops, lack of family storage for crop saving, lack of capital, and the absence of a financial institution willing to provide loans.  The society primarily exists to ensure that quotidian activities are carried out properly, namely irrigation, and provides farmers with water, extension and training services, and access to fertilizers and seeds.  With regard to the last advantage, one of the members noted how sometimes they receive mislabeled seeds and the long manufacturing chain for inputs usually means lower quality pesticides (sometimes degraded and even mislabeled).  This project has been partially supported by the World Bank and also the Tanzanian government.  In this area, farmers used to plant small amounts and low skills and little technology meant low yields.  However, increased knowledge sharing, redoing the irrigation canal, and agricultural inputs have helped turn the situation around, according to the board.  The irrigation scheme has five main canals, each with a leader, and the water is divided with few political problems in the community.  Moreover, they are trying to grow short-stem rice varieties, which are less water intensive.  I had no idea, but apparently the soil in this area is ideal for rice cultivation because it is heavy clay that retains water easily.  They appeared to be quite cognizant of taking care of the water source (a natural spring nearby) and want to plant trees around it.  They market their crops individually and are hoping to construct a collective warehouse for storage, acquire a milling machine, and increase their value added products.  Although different tribes came to settle here initially, they have come together over the issue of natural resources and water, realizing that conflict would have likely ensued otherwise.  According to one member, "before we weren't serious about agriculture, but now it's paying."  There are about 10 power tillers privately owned in the community and two owned by the cooperative, which they rent out to generate income.  Otherwise, they cultivate using hand hoes and occasionally oxen carts.  I was told that farmers would prefer to use natural manure, but that there simply isn't enough available land for grazing to raise enough livestock (even with zero-grazing policies).  Thus, they use inorganic fertilizers, as well as chemical inputs and are supposedly trained in proper application and safety precautions.  When asked about the rice yields overtime, we were given somewhat sketchy figures to the effect of:

-1996: six bags per acre (pre-irrigation)

-1997-1998: 15 bags per acre (post-irrigation)
-2000: 20 bags per acre
-2004: 22/23 bags per acre
-2007: decline because of drought
-2008-2010: 20 bags per acre
-present: 25 bags per acre (with an increase primarily due to improved seed varieties).

I take these figures with a grain of salt because the board members, including the agricultural extension officers employed by the government, didn't seem to know exact numbers.  However, it seems that over time, yields have increased, most likely due to improved irrigation methods, improved seed varieties, and agricultural inputs.  Uwamale Cooperative is currently working in starting System of Rice Intensification (SRI) methods in the future (something I hope to delve more into in India :)).  The interview with Uwamale was interesting but I think I would have learned more from simply reading their leaflet.  The discussion was heavily skewed since it was the two government officials speaking on behalf of the rest of the board for most of the time, with the other farmers hardly able to get a word in edge wise.  It was also marked by an excessive amount of bickering in Swahili, back and forth, which made it difficult to keep the group on target.  More information about the cooperative and its irrigation work can be found in this article by Farm Radio International, another NGO I hope to learn from while I'm in Tanzania.

A typical agricultural inputs shop

Rice paddies

Irrigation canal

Following this visit to Lekitatu Village, we were on our way to Lushoto, a small town in the Usambara Mountains, about 1200 m above sea level where dense populations and intense cultivation have led to erosion problems.  We splurged for a "luxury" bus (Dar Express ~ 25,000 Tsh or $15 USD), which was well worth it.  We changed buses in Mombo, described by the Lonely Planet travel guide as "the scruffy junction town at the foot of the Usambara Mountains."  And scruffy it was.  We avoided getting into a small taxi van where it seemed like the touts might be trying to scam us and instead opted for another bus, this one most definitely NOT luxury.  Though I think it would have hardly mattered which form of transportation we took to Lushoto, since regardless, I would have felt as if we were going to go over the cliff side.  It was a narrow road (felt more like one-lane) and the extremely top-heavy and tall coach was speeding and blindly cutting corners.  Reckless driving and transportation issues, however, seem to be the norm here and are unsurprisingly one of the leading causes of death.  In fact, the small bus we took from Moshi back to Arusha began smoking out of both the hood and the rear, and 30+ passengers piled out (I've seen far too many movies to anticipate the subsequent explosion).  Stranded on the side of the road, our luggage was tossed about, down from the bus roof, and we waited for another bus to pick us up on the way.  Needless to say, it was chaos and a whole other story.  We finally made it to Lushoto, after passing fields and hills of densely cultivated land, predominantly maize and bananas for miles (though little of it was terraced and instead perched unsteadily on hillsides, practically asking to be washed away with the next heavy rain) .  I've been told that Lushoto is a bit of a breadbasket in Tanzania when it comes to agricultural production and that this one region is able to provide a tremendously high percentage of Dar es Salaam's food supply needs.  Once in Lushoto, we boarded another bus to take farther into the mountains to a village called Malindi (curiously, the farming seen on this route was carefully terraced and diversified; they were cultivating vegetables such as beans and potatoes).  Needless to say, it was a long day of traveling: 4-5 hours to Mombo, 1 hour to Lushoto, and another 2 hours to Malindi, followed by a decently long hike to the home we were staying at.  We met up with Eren's WWOOFing host, Seraphine, who is a spunky fifty-something who spearheads a cooperative agriculture project in the Pare Mountains.  We were going to stay at Seraphine's uncle's house where much of his family was excitedly anticipating our arrival.  Malindi was beautiful, albeit a somewhat man made aesthetic, as much of the natural foliage and tree growth has been stripped from the rolling hills to make way for food production.  The environment is also curious as it was cool enough to grow apples and pears and pine trees were peppered throughout the landscape growing alongside bananas and palms.  One night I even put on my down jacket to sleep, which was unexpected.  

While here, we interviewed a group of farmers and helped harvest potatoes, which although only two hours of our time, it was back-breaking work with hand hoes.  It brought me back to the time that I helped harvest potatoes at "The Farm" in Illion, NY with Slow Food.  The farmer rode a tractor, which dug up the potatoes, meanwhile, my Slow Food comrades and I followed diligently, picking up the dislodged potatoes as we went.  At the time, I hadn't give it much of a second thought...of what it would have been like to harvest with a hand hoe.  Now I understand how farmers' hands can become calloused so quickly, as I developed nasty blisters in less than half a day's work.  During the farmer interview, we spoke with seven farmers (four women and three men) who grow mainly potatoes, maize, and beans (and some peas, tomatoes, carrots and peppers).  For this group of individuals, cooperation has been ingrained in them since they were born; they often exchange labor on each other's farms and also at the village level in infrastructure projects.  According to one of the farmers' opinions on cooperation, "the poor are benefiting because they can join together and do something bigger than they could individually."  When asked about production challenges, they noted that water is the number one.  The source is totally dry these days and even drinking water can be difficult to acquire and the shorter rains only exacerbate the issue.  In terms of solutions, one farmer noted how if you want to address a problem, it's about adaptability and education.  For instance, agricultural extension officers need to put pressure on farmers to shift to crops that are less water intensive.  However, these farmers are rigid and set in their ways (in their own words), they don't want to shift from maize to wheat.  Another issue is the lack of farm implements (shortages and problems with buying and distributing).  Unsurprisingly, large farmers are prioritized in the sales and oftentimes, implements do not make it to the peasant farmers, who also cannot readily afford them.  The government subsidy system for implements seems to be shafting small farmers and corruption also appears to play a role, as it seems to with many facets of Tanzanian life.  Other problems include the market, which is controlled by middle men (who may deliberately measure improperly as to take more money) and prices set by business men; storage (farmers have to sell produce right away before it goes bad and therefore are forced to accept the fixed price).  It seems that farmers in general could benefit from coming together in a cooperative structure but need more education on the benefits of solidarity and collective bargaining.  Because as it is now, most farmers sell individually on the "open market," meaning that they receive the lowest price out of desperation.  And then of course is the problem of climate change and shifting weather patterns - most notably reduced rainfall, which according to these farmers cannot be solved at the family level (an astute observation indeed, as change must be at the government and world level).  These days they can dig 20 m deep and still have a dry well, which is frightening, and adds to the problem of crop failure.  With regard to rainfall, one farmer said, "we are living and waiting for God to change the situation," which I think sums up the mindset of many small farmers in Tanzania.  Fortunately, some farmers recognize the importance of re-planting trees on mountain tops and alongside streams as riparian buffers and reducing deforestation for firewood and timber.  When I asked about the technological situation in the community, I learned that some are using motorized water pumps and chemical fertilizers and pesticides for those who can afford them.  However, I was told that there is little, if any, education in applying chemicals and they are "using them blindly."  Moreover, "they know the dangers associated with the poison but don't really have a choice as peasants; they need to produce and sell."   When I asked about intercropping and permaculture, they said "it can't be done" and talked about the limited area they have to cultivate and how they need to utilize it fully - "how would you mix the crops effectively to get high yields?" they questioned.  This somewhat defeatist mindset was difficult to hear but also reminds me of how important education and awareness are in promoting alternative farming methods, as many farmers may not be aware of natural pest control techniques.  I was also told that things have changed drastically over the past few decades: prior to 1962, farmers could cultivate naturally as there was less demand to produce and land was still fertile.  However, then came the introduction of chemical inputs, drought, population growth, and food shortages.  Through this visit and discussion, it became clear that there are many issues in small-scale farming and natural challenges that cannot be easily overcome.  However, within this context, there is also enormous potential for improvement, whether it be educating on organic farming or forming cooperatives to qualify for loans and implements.

Hiking up to the house

Harvesting potatoes


Our loot

Farmer group interviewees

Deforestation and a lot of it 

Up for sunrise

Then on our way back outside Lushoto: Irente Farm and Biodiversity Conservation Center


This next adventure is not one to be missed.  We were supposed to stay at my homestay mother's cousin's house in Tanga, which according to Lonely Planet, used to be "a major industrial center until the collapse of the sisal market; Tanzania's second-largest seaport and third-largest town behind Dar es Salaam and Mwanza.  Despite its size, it's a pleasant enough place with a sleepy, semicolonial atmosphere, wide streets filled with bicyclists and motorcylcesl, and faded charm.  While there's ittle reason to make a special detour to visit, it makes a convenient stop en route to or from Mombasa (Kenya), and is a springboard to the beaches around Pangani."  I would say that this is a pretty accurate description and we even spent a bit of time in Pangani, as advised.  The adventure, however, started when the cousin picks us up at the bus station after a half hour of waiting.  After informing us that they've been fasting because it's Ramadan, he and the driver stop at a market then bring us back to a sketchy looking building that is apparently a hotel (the sign is quite old and it's shabby looking from the outside).  We're confused as someone (later we find out it's his son) leads us up three flights of stairs and shows us to a room and disappears without any mention of where his father's gone.  The room seems okay at first; the carpet is faded but there's a double bed, an AC, and a mini-fridge, even a western style toilet (though no mosquito net; hello malaria, how are you?).  However, we quickly realize that this place is much worse than it seems.  A dead cockroach lies under the air conditioner, the tap water in the bathroom doesn't flow and when he "pumps" it, it all leaks out because the sink pipe is detached from the wall, the phone has a layer of grime 1" thick, the sheets aren't clean, and we have no idea where our host has gone.  I went into this thinking it would be a homestay ( in not a dilapidated hotel), but after inquiring, this man in fact owns the hotel and now lives here.  He was a veterinary doctor for livestock, then an importer for Dubai, and now a hotel owner, which he opened in 1997 after spending nearly a decade building the thing.  If one tries really hard it's possible to discern how it might have been 5-10 years ago.  Facebook reveals that it used to be a solid three start establishment with good service.  Originally I thought maybe the hotel was newly acquired, which would account for its raggedy state, but similar to Tanga itself, it's quite faded.  We consider bailing but decide to stick it out out of politeness.  We eat promptly at 6:30 once the sun has set and the daily fast can be broken.  Surprisingly the food was delectable: potatoes, peas, and bananas in a spicy sauce with little fried donuts, fresh squeezed passion fruit juice and black tea.  Much better than the food in the Usambara Mountains, which was saltless potatoes, ugali, and oranges for every meal.  Besides the food, the dinner was a struggle fest to say the least.  The "restaurant"/dining room of the hotel was equally rundown.  The door to the hotel office has half of its glass missing, as if someone broke in (we later learn that vandalism is a problem, oh joy!).  It felt a bit like Stephen King's The Shining.  I thought either Eren or myself would go crazy and enter into a murderous rampage.  Over dinner I learn that our host is lonely, incredibly intelligent, and also off his rocker.  He belongs to the Nyere Ideological Conservation Society (for Socialism) and has established many political enemies in town, a situation that peaked in 2005 when he was shot in the side of the head.  So now he now longer lives in his house in Tanga, but has permanently moved into the hotel (where we are the only guests out of 10 floors) and sleeps in the office on a couch that is three feet too short for him.  The mosquitoes are unbearable in the dining room, massive ants the size of finger nails crawled over the table and into the sugar and teacups as we ate, and a massive cockroach scuttled by.  Our host has extremely strong opinions about the government, corruption, the environment, law, and agriculture, but I could hardly contribute to the conversation as I was so miserably distracted by everything else - repulsed and itchy.  He accused us of not liking his food because we didn't eat enough (I had 3 helpings and he still suggested that I must be "competing in a beauty pageant because I'm not eating").  As conversation continues, we learn that his political troubles followed him to the hotel.  Maids and workers vandalized the property and stole money and belongings, so he had to fire all his help.  Apparently, he also came to the bus station to pick us up because if we had asked someone for directions on how to find him, we would have been deliberately misled by his enemies.  Good God.  It was all too weird for words.  I unsuccessfully attempted to end the conversation three times, wanting desperately to retire to the room (where we later find another huge cockroach in the shower and the toilet still doesn't flush).  We were supposed to stay 2-3 nights, but I knew that I couldn't stay, so after that night, we made up a polite white lie as to why we needed to depart early.  It's confirmed..I'm the world's worst liar.  But before we left, he insisted on bringing us to the roof of the hotel, which is one of the tallest buildings in Tanga.  We walked up maybe eight flights of stairs, half of which were unfinished floors with concrete, dust, and scattered furniture - I was sure this was the part of the story when he was going to finish us.  Once we made it to the top, the view was indeed good, as good as a view of Tanga can be I suppose.  We could see the harbor, the nearby mosques, and the rusted tin roofs of the surrounding homes.  Though I couldn't help but expect to hear gunshots, thinking that someone would surely try to shoot him from he street.  Moral of the story: Tanga is not a destination (confirmed) and we could not have been happier to be picked up by a government land cruiser the next day, which brought us to the agricultural research institute, but not before dropping us off at our newly booked hotel.  And to top it all off, we accidentally took the key, which I shamefully returned two days later...oops!   

View from the hotel roof with the neighboring mosque

ARI - Mlingano

We visited the Agricultural Research Institute in Mlingano, outside Tanga, where we met with the soil research coordinator.  ARI Mlingano is under the Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives.  According to the coordinator, the "agriculture" component is related to research, the "food security" primarily concerns buying cereals and crops from farmers to store for times of food shortages in order to distribute to stabilize prices (though poor road conditions make it difficult to transport food during shortages), and "cooperatives" is concerned with facilitating the formation of associations (i.e. helping farmers find markets for products, acquiring technologies, and insurance).  ARI Mlingano has been the host governmental institution for sisal and soil research since it was founded in 1934.  Sisal is a cash crop that is in the same family as pineapples, I believe, and can be used to make natural fibers (e.g. for carpeting, natural bags, cardboard, twine for anchoring ships).  

Sisal Photo source

The Germans introduced sisal (which we were told originated in Florida) during the colonial era and LP writes, "Tanzania soon became the world's leading producer and exporter of the crop," until the world market collapsed in the 1970s/80s when the price of sisal dropped and large-scale plantation production no longer was profitable.  In 2005, however, a new vision that incorporates smaller scale production of sisal has been born, one that includes few lines of young sisal alongside crops such as maize.  This is an outgrower scheme in which small holder farmers harvest the leaves and then send them to a processing plant, after which they are paid for the fiber by weight.  Sisal has an interesting potential for growth again because of its sustainable and biodegradable nature (it can replace synthetics), it can be processed with jatropha to make bioplastics, it is rich in nitrogen, so waste can be applied back to the soil as fertilizer, and biodiesel can also be created from sisal waste, another energy potential.  In this scheme, large farmers still own the property, but small farmers are given one acre plots to grow sisal, which they intercrop with maize, cow peas, and sunflowers.  Regarding technologies, now portable decoticaters using small diesel engines are available for small-scale processing and some estates even have their own spinning plants to manufacture carpets on-site.  Domestic distribution of sisal is low, however, with most exported abroad as both raw twine and finished goods.  Sisal can be grown for 10 years straight and harvested twice a year, though harvesting has yet to become mechanized and is instead extremely labor intensive: done by hand with a knife.  It is a robust and somewhat climate-resilient crop, though its production has collapsed in regions such as Mtwara due to increased aridity (rainfall also dictates the size of the leaves depending on bimodal or single rainfall patterns in each region).  ARI Mlingano is also responsible for developing a hybrid variety of sisal, which in their opinion, is the best for its drought and disease resistance.  

The coordinator we met with provided us with a significant amount of background on agriculture in Tanzania, which was immensely helpful in contextualizing all that I've learned so far and better informing future visits.  Tanzania's main agricultural exports are coffee, tea, sugarcane, cotton, and sisal, both raw and processed.  I learned that much of Tanzania's agricultural research occurred in the 1970s under President Nyere, but after this, it decreased until around 2000-2005, during which funding for agricultural research in soil and fertilizers, mapping land use with GIS etc. was restored.  Today, more than 60% of the land in Tanga region is devoted to sisal production, which farmers largely prioritize over vegetables: "maize doesn't pay but sisal does," he asserted.  The issue of land tenure and rights is not absent here but is illustrated by the trend that farmers who don't own the land are not incentivized to use proper management techniques, though most farmers do not apply fertilizer or inputs because they're deemed unnecessary.  He noted how in the Kilimanjaro and Arusha regions, as well as the Southern Highlands, agriculture flourishes and follows recommended practices as they have favorable climates, high populations, and access to inputs and markets.  This is in stark contrast to the dry areas where farmers have to cultivate massive tracts of land because it is generally less productive, use local varieties instead of hybrid seeds (also less productive, but another debate in itself I think), and cannot afford agricultural inputs such as pesticides and fertilizers.  Moreover, there is not enough of an emphasis on growing tree plants and vegetable crops as farmers simply grow maize out of longstanding tradition.  He said that in the Kurogwe region, farmers are more receptive to new technology and education because they lack a favorable climate.  According to this research officer, inorganic "fertilizers are required and farmers realize this."  Hmm...interesting and of course at odds with other opinions.  And on the coast, there are poor soils but farmers don't want to apply fertilizers because they are expensive and "the farmers are lazy," as they can rely on fishing as a source of food and income generation (*I also observed this mentality while I was in Mwanza on Lake Victoria, to be discussed in a later post).  According to him, farmers need to cultivate continuously on the same plots of land instead of slash and burn and leaving fields fallow after over cultivation (land shortages are a reality and nutrients are rapidly being depleted).  Fortunately, farmers realize they need to do something to restore the nutrient value of their existing land, such as planting legumes (e.g. cow peas) for nitrogen fixation, adding manure, and intercropping.  Interestingly, 20-30 years ago the Tanzanian government was operating seed farms dedicated to developing local and suitable crop varieties, which they abandoned in the 1990s.  Today, however, they are reviving the seed farms to develop appropriate varieties for changing agroecological conditions...yay!  Though the importing of seeds apparently has little quality control and should be replaced by local production.  The ministry of agriculture is a proponent of using geographic information systems (GIS) to map land use but the government doesn't have adequate funds to support the research (evidenced by the extremely dated testing equipment we saw at Mlingano, the fact that they are using Arc GIS version 2.something while the current version is 11 or 12, and that research into new varieties of sisal has been halted).  Most people I've talked to in Tanzania concur with the claim that the current president of Tanzania is very out of touch with the poor and does not directly support small farmers.  On the positive side, however, he is working to drastically improve the infrastructure and environment for foreign investment, which could prove useful for Tanzania in the future (alas, another debate).  Fortunately, ARI appears to be working with extension officers to identify production constraints and promote "best practices" as solutions, which include: using manure to restore potassium, nitrogen, and phosphorus to low-fertility soil, mulching to reduce water loss, intercropping for pest control, adding organic matter to improve soil's water holding capacity, agroforestry/terracing/contour farming to reduce erosion in mountains areas, low-till/conservation agriculture, which uses cover crops to control run off and erosion and for water management, and more traditional conservation methods such as the use of mini pits (rings of grass covered by soil with seeds sown on the ridges, and when it rains, the pits are filled and the ridges are irrigated and eventually rotated: "these changes are slow to happen," he noted.  This evaluation is an on-going relationship and fertilizer research/recommendations especially utilize place-based solutions and participatory feedback.  And because land shortages are common farmers tend toward intensification such as zero grazing of 2-3 dairy cattle (instead feeding them sunflower stalks, cotton seed kit, molasses, and grass from elsewhere).  He described Tanga as being in a bit of a rough spot: farmers cannot achieve a good maize harvest without fertilizers, but fertilizers need adequate rainfall, and its impossible to properly irrigate without even having enough water for domestic use.  Hence the importance of water conservation, again, and I don't think this catch-22 is unique to Tanga but rather affects most regions.  We were also told that Nyere also support domestic processing plants that have since collapsed with the regime change, and "agriculture is no longer paying" because everyone is cultivating and creating surplus, but processing units are absent, so much of it goes to waste.  And even if locals or foreigners wanted to come in to establish processing plants, the process for securing land is bureaucratic and extremely difficult.  When I asked about the potential for indigenous African vegetables to alleviate food insecurity and adapt to climate change, he noted that sure, they have potential but are typically low yield, exacerbated by the fact that poor government funding is hurting indigenous variety research (upwards of 90% of agricultural research initiatives are donor funded...whoa).  And despite the fact that the government recently announced the initiative "Kilimo Kwanza" or "Agriculture First," it has been apparently slow to take off because the government is waiting for donor support.  For example, among many positive contributions, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is funding research in drought-tolerant/water-efficient maize varieties and established a lab in Dar es Salaam for researching tuber and root crop potentials.  I also couldn't leave the discussion without asking about land-grabbing and organics.  The officer noted that land-grabbing is really affecting coastal regions and also Morogoro where rainfall is high and many perennial rivers and streams exist (alluvial and fertile soils).  In these places, there is a high displacement of farmers as top-down grabbing without farmer discussion.  Re: organics, a decent amount of organic tea cultivation occurs in the Iringa region, but only because they are been able to identify customers abroad and foreign markets for export.  Sunflower oil is popular, exported to Scandinavia  and uses few agrochemicals, in comparison to cotton seed oil, which has fallen on the foreign market because of the heavy use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers.  A local demand for "organic" as we know it in the United States simply does not exist here, where many people are food insecure in general.  However, organic is present by default: farmers cannot afford chemicals so they don't use them.  According to this officer, "we can't do it without agrochemicals" because in livestock intensive areas, grazing occurs elsewhere and manure is therefore removed from household use; in low rainfall areas, larger farms simply cannot apply manure to the whole acreage (volume shortage); and in highly populated areas, manure volumes are also inadequate (only possible for home gardens).  This is not the first time I've heard this argument and I am going to continue to inquire about it as I proceed through the next ten months.  There must be ways to "scale up" organic, but how do we get around the land shortage?  These are not easy questions.  And where synthetic inputs are used, the training is often lacking, especially with regard to proper storage and application: "people know about health risks but it's poverty...protective gloves are expensive and untrained family members sell the chemicals," he noted.          

Tanga Fresh

We also visited Tanga Fresh, a Dutch-founded 5,000-6,000 farmer dairy cooperative with a processing plant that distributes fresh yogurt and milk domestically (primary market is Dar es Salaam but also sells to Mwanza, Morogoro and Dodoma).  Farmers use both Fresian and local breeds and the Tanga Dairy Cooperative Union (the farmers) hold about a 35% share of the company.  TDCU preceeded the factory, which was built in 1997 and currently churns out 50,000 liters of milk a day; today the factory is government-owned.  There are 47 collection centers in the Tanga, Morogoro, and Coast regions from where farmers bring their milk for drivers to test before pick up.  The milk is brought back to the plant for laboratory testing (assessment  of fat, protein, lactose and solids etc.).  We were able to take a tour of the processing plant, which was interesting, and after tasting the yogurt, I can personally attest to its deliciousness (though my positive associations may be partially derived from my deprivation of dairy products in Tanzania, ha).  More information and an interesting summary on Tanga Fresh can be found in this study.

Factory tour

Yogurt galore


"About 55 km south of Tanga is the small and dilapidated Swahili outpost of Pangani...More of a draw for many travelers are the beaches running north and south of the town, which are lovely, with stands of coconut palms alternating with dense coastal vegetation and the occasional baobab," writes Lonely Planet.  I'm en route from Tanga on the northeast coast to Morogoro in the Southern Highlands.  We've decided to take a brief mini-vacation, staying at a place called Peponi Resort (take the term resort with a grain of salt; it was quite nice but not how we would conceive of a resort back home).  It's strange to think that I am sitting adjacent to the Indian Ocean as I write.  It's the first time I've dipped my goes in and now I can say I've been to the Atlantic, Pacific, Mediterranean, and now Indian.  The beach here is small, probably less than a mile in length, situated between a mangrove forest on one end and an outcrop with a resort atop at the other end.  I ran for the first time since I left home: barefoot on the beach, it felt so good to stretch my bare legs and zone out with my ipod.  However, dodging both rocks and stares from resident Africans (adults and children alike) was not pleasurable.  I must have looked strange: a mzungu wearing athletic shorts and headphones, running down the beach.  "Twende wapi?" they would yell ("where are you going?").  Does it matter?  I know the beach "resort" I'm staying at is in the opposite direction, but does it matter?  Can't I just move freely?  I don't think running is a thing here.  Exercising in general seems to be very much an activity and privilege of the financially-stable, those who aren't worrying about their next meal.  "Exercising" for impoverished subsistence farmers is tilling the field and carrying water and firewood miles each day.  And to be honest, I was hoping that I would be able to run in peace without curious stares, especially since I only had two nights to relish the beach.  Peponi reminds me of a mix of Crocadylus Village, the backpacking hostel we stayed at in the Daintree Rainforest in Queensland, Australia, which was lovely, and our beach house in Brunswick Heads, New South Wales, Australia, as the Peponi Banda has thatched roots, communal spaces, and is right on the beach.  Here I befriended a Spanish family from Pampalona who I mistook for Americans, and we met a German couple and a Danish backpacker.  One day we took a small dhow out and went snorkeling on the nearby reef and had lunch on a sand bar, before the tides threatened to wash out sandwiches away.  This was my second time snorkeling, the first being on the Great Barrier Reef, and I'm still not sure how I feel about it.  It can be disorienting, especially when one's mask fills with water and when the water is choppy.  One thing I can say with certainty, however, is that I'm glad this wasn't my first time (and that it only cost $15) .  There was no waiver, no life jackets/noodles/flotation devices provided, no basic guidelines, and I don't think anyone manning the boat spoke English.  

Low tide

Snorkeling boat

A bit different than sailing back home

Men fishing

We took lunch on a sand bar

Fortunately, a break in Pangani has also given me a chance to stop and reflect on the different experiences I've had in Tanzania.  I find it extremely difficult to process and digest all that I' ve been learning.  As I have said many times, everything here is a new experience.  I want to balance reading relevant literature, talking to farmers, and meeting with NGOs, research institutions, and government organizations.  I think that each of these avenues can provide useful, albeit usually biased information.  Thus, it requires a conscious effort to balance my inquires to form as comprehensive and objective an opinion as possible.  I am also uncertain as to whether or not I am asking the "right" questions.  I have broad topics I know I am interested in, which I can use to paint a more all-encompassing picture of the "future of food," including: seeds (heirloom/open pollinated varieties, hybrids, or GMOs?), the use of synthetic chemical inputs or natural biopesticides, organic versus conventional production, irrigation and water management techniques, biodiversity and land/natural resource conservation/management, climate change, the mechanization and efficiency of agricultural systems as related to yield, subsistence versus commercial versus industrial farming models, horticulture versus non-food cash crops, the gender dynamic, pressures from the global economy, post-harvest processing and storage technologies and value-added products.  I am sure I could think of more, but as you can see, my brain is full, swirling with information.  These topics are multi-dimensional, intricately interlinked, and they get easily muddled in my brain.  I am trying to embody a sponge and soak up everything I possibly can, which is exhausting, but worth it. 

Morogoro na Kilimo Hai

Next stop: Morogoro, a town of 250,000 and generally good vibes.  Lonely Planet says it "would be a fairly scruffy town were it not for its verdant setting at the foot of the Uluguru Mountains, which brood over the landscape from the southeast.  The surrounding area is one of the country's breadbaskets, home to the prestigious Sokoine University (Tanzania's national agricultural institute) and a major educational and mission station."  Naturally, Sokoine was the major draw, as I learned that they have a large solar drying project.  We ended up spending the majority of our time with Sustainable Agriculture Tanzania (SAT), a Swiss-funded NGO with the goal of contributing to "improved food security and poverty reduction through offering a complete package of technology, guidance and partnership for farmers to transit to sustainable agriculture to increase their yields in an environmentally friendly way."  A project "established on farmers' needs" with a "precondition to deal with farmers horizontally, face-to-face, to acknowledge their experiences," it specializes in Kilimo Hai (organic agriculture) information dissemination, research, application, and networking.  SAT also has a 120 acre farmer training center about 20 kms outside Morogoro where they educate and demonstrate methods to small farmers, agricultural extension officers, students, NGO professionals etc.  They also have an organic shop where they directly sell the farmers' produce (only one of two organic shops in all of Tanzania).  While meeting with the executive director, we learned a lot about how SAT functions.  Before this, I had never heard of PGS, which stands for "participatory guarantee system" and is a method organic certification that allows farmers to self-inspect (though every 18 months there is external inspection).  It is cheaper, about $50-$100 per year or $3-5 per farmer, compared to hundreds if not thousands of dollars for a third party organic certification.  PGS is supported by the Organic Standards of East Africa and the national organic agriculture movement and is strictly for domestic markets, not to be exported.  In fact, SAT emphasizes local consumption and purchasing first (self, neighbors, villages, then transporting).  For SAT-trained farmers, consumers can trace the product directly back to the source and they can sell their products locally in villages and at the two organic shops (in Morogoro and Dar) where they can get a high price premium (though this also requires added transportation costs but also serves a similar function as contract farming).  Though in fact, sometimes the farmers can sell up for up to 20% more than their conventional counterparts.  SAT uses demonstration plots for training, where they emphasize the importance of starting small with kitchen gardens before expanding.  And with PGS, not everything must be directly and immediately converted to organic.  For small-scale farmers in Morogoro, it is a matrilineal society where land is passed down to daughters and each individual only "owns" about 1/4-5 acres at most.  There are currently 8 active groups and each PGS group has about 15-35 members with a democratically elected chair, secretary, treasurer, and subcommittees for training, marketing, inspection and compliance.  Each group establishes internal quality management standards, a constitution with bylaws, including production guidelines, restrictions, and consequences; then they apply for their license.  SAT assists with the facilitation of this process but ultimately it's the farmers who make the final decisions.  These farmers mostly cultivate vegetables (a mix of exotic and traditional), not cash crops, though some rice and sunflowers.  When I asked about how the farmers generally dealt with converting from conventional to organic farming methods, I was told that there is relatively little resistance if they see that they can make and save money (some farmers were spending 32,000 tsh or about $20 on pesticides each month), then it's practically a no brainer.  It had to be an active decision on the part of the farmers though to willing give up the government-distributed vouchers they had for subsidized fertilizers.  The transition, however, takes time, as the soil fertility needs to be built back up.  Water is king and typically the most limiting factor I've come across, with the importance of water-holding technologies (swales, contours, double dug beds, terracing, piping, pumps etc.) emphasized.  However, in these mountain villages outside Morogoro, water doesn't seem to be a major issue (though it may be in the future).  According to the executive director, PGS organic has helped farmer groups become closer.  They assist each other with harvesting and terrace building, health related problems, attend each other's funeral services, etc.  She explained how in Towelo, the first village they worked with, soil depletion forced farmers to move higher into the mountains and clear more trees because they didn't realize they could add organic fertilizers to restore soil nutrients.  With improved knowledge, they have been able move back to once abandoned land.  She also distinguished between "organic" and "traditional" cultivation, a delineation that is still not 100% clear in my mind.  Supposedly, traditional doesn't necessarily use synthetic inputs but may involve slash and burn and illogical spacing.  In contrast, organic involves a "close relationship with the land," one of care and proper management (intercropping, crop rotation, polyculture etc.).  

We were able to accompany the executive director on two field visits to the nearby villages of Mfumbwe and Towelo.  The first stop was meeting a farmer who has been solar drying for 16 years!  Longer than any single individual or organization I've encountered in Tanzania.  He is a single farmer who qualified for a loan from the University of Dar es Salaam, which paid 113,000 tsh (~$70 USD) for a solar dryer back in 1997.  Although it was a large investment at first, in one year, he made back the initial investment cost.  Now he is able to pay his children's school fees, his own attendance at workshops and trainings around and outside of Tanzania, and has his own line of organic, solar dried products.  In the future, he hopes to start a training center.  When asked about his challenges, he noted that he is able to sell his products at exhibitions across East Africa but because he still doesn't have certification from the Tanzanian Bureau of Standards, this limits his customer base.  He also suffers from a lack of infrastructure, as he has no building for processing and packing, which is his next step before establishing the training center.  He estimates that it will cost him about 30 million tsh for a processing/packaging/printing facility (about $20,000), and because he has no title deed for his land, he cannot qualify for a loan.  After briefly visiting with this farmer, we headed to the village to see the farmer plots where they've been cultivating for less than a year.  There are 22 individuals in this group, which together have constructed 20 terraces.  Although it cost them 150,000 tsh (~$95) to clear the grass and shrubs, they've been able to make 84,000 tsh (~$50) in two months from selling produce at the local market.  They hope to improve their productivity in the future, especially now that the new water infrastructure is in place: bamboo hollowed out and used as piping.  This is the first time I've seen this in Tanzania and it seemed like an excellent example of an appropriate alternative irrigation technology, as there is also the potential to bury the closed piping.  We saw few livestock animals in this area and learned that their compost doesn't use much manure, but instead high nitrogen plants.  They make their own liquid fertilizer by grinding nitrogen rich plants and soaking them in water to dissolve the nitrogen.  The second PGS visit was to Towelo, where the project began in 2010.  On their demonstration plot, they are growing swiss chard, lettuce, Chinese cabbage, onions, peppers, leeks, carrots, celery, parsley, spinach, and kale on a terraced slope.  They also have a bamboo keyhole garden, three sack gardens, and two basket gardens to demonstrate different household methods.  The group is made up of 23 members: 7 men and 16 women, but today only eight women are in the field.  Because this was one of the rare moments when no men were around, I felt comfortable asking gender-specific questions to the women (with the help of an interpreter, of course).  When asked about the division of labor, I learned that everyone fulfills the same roles (irrigating, planting, harvesting etc.).  However, gender specific challenges do exist, namely that it typically takes the women a longer amount of time and energy to complete the same task as the men, the women have more responsibilities (at home domestically and in the fields), such as collecting firewood (fortunately, water is locally available).  To overcome the fuel issue, they are encouraged to plant trees around the fields.    

Look what I found!  Slow Food friends everywhere.

SAT Founder/Executive Director on the left and shop keeper on the right: where the farmers can sell their produce

Solar dryer, farmer owned for 16 years

New signage

Bamboo irrigation

Harvesting carrots

The first time this group of farmers has ever seen carrots: excitement for kilimo hai 

Mango trees are my new favorites

Swiss chard is one of the most beautiful vegetables

Washing the vegetables in the stream

Before sending them off to town to be sold

With some of the women of Towelo

In addition to these field visits, I stopped by Sokoine University to see the solar drying factory.  I was half expecting an actual factory in the western sense, but instead encountered a cluster of small buildings with some demonstration models.  They were holding an event on drying orange sweet potatoes, so the facility was buzzing with students, faculty, and entrepreneurs.  I saw four types of dryers: the "local" direct solar dryer (made of local materials), which already exists in East Africa (600,000 tsh = $375).  It takes about two days to dry produce under good conditions.  The second was a tunnel solar dryer (manufactured by the Giersch company out of Germany), which has a solar panel that powers airflow to increase drying efficiency (7 million tsh or about $4,400).  They imported the dryer and then constructed a replicate out of local materials.  This model takes about one day to dry depending on weather and volume.  The third was a hybrid model dryer that is powered by gas and takes 6-8 hours, now used for sterilizing produce (27 million tsh = $17,000).  The fourth "model" was an example of bulk drying and was actually a building that looked more than a greenhouse than anything.  Here they can dry two tons of ginger, sweet potatoes, and cassava among many crops, which they can then turn into flour, cakes, or other value-added products.  Currently the university is researching appropriate drying technologies and then advising farmers and entrepreneurs through their incubator program.  In addition to Rosella hibiscus, cassava flour, and spices, they process cashew nuts and rice.


Women drying Rosella 

After some careful calculation, the past sixteen days amounted to about 35 hours on buses and dala dalas, 11 different bus transfers, 4 homestays, 3 hotels, 1 motel, 1 resort, and 1 guesthouse.  A whirl tour of Tanzania, I'd say (with so much more of the country left to see).