Farming Eden in Tanzania

DSC_0093Malala, Tanzania – If there is an Eden for international charities in Tanzania, it might be a small plot in the Malala sub-district of Nambala.

Goats feed from green grass while standing on elevated enclosures. The cows are close behind in their own pen that sits directly next to a bio-gas generating system, across from caged chicken and surrounded by elevated key-hole gardens.

The site benefits from support from Heifer International (the goats), the Global Service Corps (bag and key-hole gardens) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church (bio-gas). All coalesce to a verdant space where local farmers can gather, under a grass-roofed outdoor structure, to listen to programming from the Canadian-based NGO Farm Radio International.

The exceptionally green plot stands out as an outlier compared to the surrounding area. In a time of little rainfall for the majority of the country, Ndetaniswa Zadok Kitomary has a thriving plot of land thanks to an NGO perfect storm.

Ndetaniswa Zadok Kitomary (l) and Japhet Emmanuel, Director of Farm Radio International Tanzania
Ndetaniswa Zadok Kitomary (l) and Japhet Emmanuel, Director of Farm Radio International Tanzania

She and her husband run a sort of school for local farmers to learn about new techniques and implement the lessons learned form the radio program. By appearances, the work is further supported by the other NGOs that operate in the same region near Mount Meru in northern Tanzania.

Beginning in 2000, Ndetaniswa cultivated the plot for herself and to teach her neighbors. Members now pay 25,000 Tanzania shillings each year to participate. They learn about the latest techniques in organic farming and pest management.

“The farm requires constant monitoring and attention to watch for pests,” she said.

Mint and other natural pest deterrents are planted along side greens to keep away the bugs that will cause harm to crops. The organic farming is likely influenced by the work of the Global Service Corps, but does not matter much for the local market. Buyers and customers still do not care whether or not crops are organic nor is it easy to differentiate between organic and non-organic foods.

The weekly radio show also gives cause for the group to gather each week. Airing on Friday evenings, with Sunday repeats, Farm Radio International’s programming offers an opportunity for the members to learn about improved techniques and opportunities regarding vegetables. Funded by the Gates Foundation, the program hopes to each about new technologies and inputs for farming.

“The way that GMO and hybrid seed are presented to people is that they are unsustainable and expensive,” said Japhet Emmanuel, country director for Farm Radio International.

“Radio will help a lot in providing mass education. I’ve seen farmers change their mindsets.”

Japhet described as the transition away from traditional seeds to new technologies as ‘inevitable.’ For farmers like Ndetaniswa, the time is not now.

She still uses traditional seeds for her farm, citing concerns about the chemicals in alternative seeds and the expense at buying them. Japhet remains optimistic because the results prove the necessity of making the change. He said that the few farmers that are making the switch are seeing better yields and increased profits, more than enough to buoy their continued purchase of GMO and hybrid seed.

Farm Radio International was established to fill a gap discovered by the founder George Atkins, a farm radio host for the CBC, in the 1970s to inform smallholder farmers. Today, it provides support to 500 radio stations across sub-Saharan Africa. Program scripts are mostly developed in country for agriculture programs aimed at smallholder farmers. The shows are mostly traditional talk shows with guest speakers and the opportunity for farmers to call in and participate.

To make it more interactive, the program includes a voting component for the farmers. When a question is asked, the farmers are given two numbers to call. One for yes and the other for no. They can call, wait for it to ring and then hang up. The missed call registers a vote for the farmer and costs nothing for the caller.

Elembora Essi, 65, and Nancy Joseph, 37
Elembora Essi, 65, and Nancy Joseph, 37

While agriculture radio programming in the 197os targeted commercial and large scale farmers, the trend is changing. Other major radio stations now include radio programming in Tanzania. The format is mostly the same and also includes an interactive component using phone calls and text messages.

The difference for Farm Radio International could be its direct outreach to the community and support for farm listening groups. Solar/hand-crank radios are sold to groups for $50 (subsidised from $100). The larger radios come with the ability to record the 30 minute program for playback during a later meeting or re-listening.

Elembora Essi, 65, and Nancy Joseph, 37, never listened to the radio about farming before learning about the programming. They say there is not much of a difference between the show offered by Farm Radio International on Radio 5 and the government supported alternative.

Meeting with the group has made a difference for Elembora. Her husband provides little for the family income, disappearing for as long as two months at a time. She said she used to earn 20,000 TSH per month and is now making 50,000 to 70,000 TSH per month. The gains could be due to the lessons learned from the school, or it might be the benefit of sitting in the eye of an NGO perfect storm.

Tom Murphy reported this story in Tanzania as a fellow with the International Reporting Project (IRP). 

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About Author

Aid/Development Beat Reporter Tom Murphy is a Maine-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom found and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy(at)humanosphere.org.