Bees and tanks and gardens, oh my!

20 January 2012

I went with the guy from MVIWATA today to go see one of their projects. It’s one village that has a lot of projects going because the donor already was working with them through the Lutheran church and wanted MVIWATA to continue working in this village. So they have goats, bees, storage tanks, and community gardening, and possibly others I’m not aware of. As we drove out there in his friend’s borrowed car, going through the lower elevations that just grow corn, he talked about how when the country liberalized its economy, seed distribution switched from being done through the state to being done on the open market. When the government did it, they experimented with seeds to see which grew best in the that climate. But then the economy opened and the international companies came in and started selling hybrid seeds cheap, without testing them for local suitability and people adopted them. But these seeds required a lot of fertilizer, and while they had good returns at first, the returns declined and are now worse than the harvests the traditional seeds used to get, and of course the land has been damaged by heavy fertilizer use. He also mentioned that the influx of cheap Chinese-made goods has undermined local industries. Interesting stuff.

On the way there is an amazing view of Kilimanjaro. The summit was just peeking out from over the clouds. It’s pretty amazing the way it just rises up – I never look high enough at first.

The village we visited is way up in elevation. Very beautiful. The group leaders showed us around to the different projects. The storage tanks are a special design made of concrete, so cheaper than buying pre-made plastic ones.  And they can be used for storing grain or water; the only difference is in the spigot/tap. And a village technician is trained to build them, so people can order them if and when they want and he makes them. There is also a village technician trained in building the beehives, so they don’t have to buy them pre-made either.

The other project I found particularly interesting was the community farming. They have plots scattered through the village, depending on where they’re able to get land from an absentee landowner or a member that has extra land. Their land may change from year to year or even season to season as it’s available. Each patch is farmed by 10-20 people who do work equally, according to a work schedule. They then sell the harvest as a group, thereby getting better prices, and divide the profits evenly. Some of the profits are kept for the group. They also maintain a seed bed and an experiment area, where they have several beds prepared where they can try different plants/seeds and see what grows best before planting a whole field of them.

They have access to irrigation water that is shared by three wards. There is a schedule for water usage between the wards, and maybe within the villages.

The group gave me a bottle of honey! It’s not like any honey I’ve ever tasted. Much sweeter, and with a very distinct flavor. Just extraordinary.

More goats

7 January 2012

Today had a program! First, to feed the goats. This entailed taking the branches out of the trough that had already been stripped of their bark and leaving the ones that hadn’t for the goats to keep eating. Then, planting coffee trees. The holes had been prepared and just needed to have the seedlings put in with a little water. Then pruning coffee plants, which is pretty easy and kind of enjoyable. Then, briefly, cleaning banana trees. This is taking off dead strips. There’s a monthly calendar farmers should follow, and these are activities for January. Then off to visit some local KEDA farmers. They also have a goat project and people are definitely benefiting from it. The buildings for the goats aren’t as big or as uniform as the ones in Samanga. One of the people we visited is a widow. She sells the goats’ milk and gets Tsh1000 (about 75 cents) per litre. The animals give 8-10 litres a day when not pregnant. She also has cows whose calves she sells. She sent her daughter to university with the profits (she’s studying economics). Another person we visited started with one goat and has now sold more than twenty! They built two new outbuildings and sent the kids to school with the profits. The funny thing is, though, these people still look poor. The goat projects, etc, have really helped them raise their income significantly, yet from looking at them, you would still think they’re poor. But while they may be poor, I guess they’ve escaped the truly grinding poverty that many still live in.

Diversity of projects is key. Pigs, goats, cows, etc – keeping different ones means having a more reliable income, reliable income being a key hindrance for the very poor. How do you plan for the future when you only know you have money now with no guarantee of it next week or next month? You just spend it now because you don’t know if you’ll have it in the future.

The day ended with me roasting and grinding coffee from the farm! And then drinking it, of course!

Cows, bees, and coffee

6 January 2012

Today we talked about livestock parasites, and as practical work dosed one of the cows. Two person job.  Mr Mlay held onto it and opened its mouth so I could get the bottle in, but I still had to use my other hand to help get its mouth open by sticking my fingers in its nostrils and pulling up with all my might. Ick! Had to do this many times to get all the medication down. Cow didn’t seem too upset afterwards, though.

Then we went to visit a farmer with a beekeeping project. He also has quite a big farm, for here. Lots of cucumbers and tomatoes. He has six beehives. Half a  litre of honey sells for Tsh15k, and he gets 10 litres a hive a year, so it’s a pretty lucrative project. They use trench irrigation in this area, and it makes a big difference. The water comes down from the mountain, and they build trenches through all the fields for the water to trickle through.  Walked from there to Himo, which was very sweaty. One part we went through was flat-out desert, with lots of cacti.

After lunch I went to spend the weekend with KEDA’s board chairman. He lives way up in the hills. It’s very lush and cool and remote. He took me to visit the local coffee cooperative, which was cool because it was seeing the other end of the supply chain from the one I’m used to – the grocery store shelf. The guy there gave a very thorough explanation of how they work. They keep close records of the farmers, and who’s organic and who isn’t. They already know who grows organic and who doesn’t , although I’m not sure there’s a mechanism for verifying organic. Maybe it isn’t necessary. Anyway, they store it separately and so on. A kilo of non-organic pays Tsh4000 and a kilo of organic pays Tsh4200, at the moment. Prices come from the central office, where they keep track of world market prices and set the local prices accordingly. They also have a demonstration farm and a nursery where they sell coffee seedling to generate income. Very interesting.

The real deal

5 January 2012

I went on tour of the eastern part of KEDA’s catchment area today with Mr Shirima, the secretary, on his bike. It was a very different environment than what I’ve seen so far; very dry, even the trees were wilting. He kept calling it drought, but it’s just the normal dry season, so not really a drought (right?). The first person we visited was the (female) chairperson of a village HIV group. It’s mostly a support group, encouraging people with HIV to live openly and supporting people through all the difficulties of having HIV. KEDA has a project with them to build kitchen gardens, since the vitamins and so on from green vegetables help the ARVs be more effective. They get the ARVs free from the hospital, but there are costs associated with it anyway – transportation to and from the hospital, and drugs to treat other, related illnesses.  They have six kitchen gardens in the village. But right now they are wilting from the lack of water. They compost so the soil retains more moisture, but it isn’t enough. And materials for water catchment and storage are very expensive. KEDA is also helping the group start a beekeeping project, as it is a way to generate income that requires little physical work, which is good for people who are weak from HIV. These people are very poor and unable to work because of the HIV. My first taste of real poverty.

Then we continued on in that village to where there were supposed to be some tree nursery projects. They weren’t much, though, partly due to the dry weather, I guess.  Then on to the rest of the area, where we met some KEDA folk and saw there farms and the challenges they’re facing. For example, for some people the only thing they grow to make any money from is maize, which they hope to sell enough of to get them through the dry season, when it doesn’t grow and they aren’t really growing anything else. But these places are so remote, and people don’t have vehicles, so getting it to market is nearly impossible. So trucks come and pick it up, but for a farm-gate price that is lower than the market price.  It was getting very hot now, and there wasn’t much shade in this area. We went as far as the Kenyan border then turned around. Had lunch in Himo and tried to use the internet but the network was down, surprise, surprise.

Flora brought her friend to see my computer this evening and they wanted to play games on it. Oh no, I’ve corrupted them with American culture!