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Kilimanjaro vegetable farmers find windfall in lucrative organic farming

23rd March 2012
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Vegetable farmer in Kilimanjaro region

Organically grown vegetables is currently attracting hundreds of small-scale farmers in three districts in Kilimanjaro region Moshi Rural, Siha and Same. The new farming venture acts as a healing initiative to the degraded land.

Thanks, to the endeavours made by Foresta Tanzania, a Christian non-profit organization, which is carrying-out series of training for farmers in the area, on how best to produce vegetables, which are free from artificial fertilizers and chemicals. Our Staff Writer took part in the recent vegetable growers’ exhibition in Marangu Mtoni area, Moshi Rural district and talked to different farmers on the new development endeavours….

Scores of villagers in Moshi Rural, Same and Siha districts in Kilimanjaro region are actively engaging into organic vegetable farming, which are free from industrial fertilizers and chemicals.

The new gardening venture has become a popular economic activity for people living on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro and its neighboring areas. This is due to the unpredictable prices of coffee at the world market. Coffee was the sole cash crop depended by many people in the area for decades.

Some villagers have decided to cut down coffee trees and instead replaced varieties of vegetables, as it is a quick source of income to fulfill their daily needs than any other cash crop in the area.

A farmer starts enjoying the fruits of the crop in three to four weeks after sowing seeds on the farm. It took time for people to start realizing the potentialities of the crop. But now everybody is fully aware of the benefits embedded in vegetable farming. To make things moving, villagers have been organized in groups.

Some of the groups, apart from engaging into other economic activities, are engaging into environmental conservation initiatives, like planting trees on water sources and their surroundings. This is meant to reduce pressure on forest resources.

Through these groups, which are more than 70, villagers are empowered with a wide-range of skills and knowledge on how to come up with strong Village Community Banking (VICOBA) units in their localities. VICOBA plays an instrumental role in the area as it makes farmers imbibe a saving culture as well as get quick loans to improve their daily activities.

All these have been possible through the initiative made by Floresta Tanzania a Christian and US-based non-profit organization, working to reverse deforestation and ameliorate poverty in the world by transforming the lives of the rural poor. Its vision is that deforestation stems from a lack of economic options and that rural poverty stems from environmental degradation.

Men and women in Kilimanjaro are so pleased with the series of training made by the Floresta Tanzania on different areas such as organic vegetable farming techniques, entrepreneurship and business skills. Other activities that have been introduced in the three districts include modern poultry keeping, cattle rearing, piggery and among others.

So far, 41 villages, and a total of 2,276 have benefited from the Floresta initiatives. In Moshi rural district alone about 240 small-scale farmers have benefited from the organic vegetable farming.

Members of the groups are seriously embarked on producing a wide-range of harvests such as different types of vegetables, onions, tomato, cabbage, carrots, chilli, garlic and other vegetables. Most of those crops are produced in their back-yards and nearby farm plots.

Organic vegetables grown in the area get market within the area and nearby towns including Moshio and district’s headquarters.

Joyce Chonjo is a group secretary of Aman group, which has 30 members, says the enterprise has provided a valuable source of income for her family.

She says, the new venture offers a number of opportunities as the organically grown vegetables are dramatically superior in mineral content to that grown by modern conventional methods and it fosters the life of the soil organic farming reaps the benefits soil life offers in greatly facilitated plant access to soil nutrients.

“It is known that healthy plants mean healthy people, and such better nourished plants provide better nourishment to people and animals alike,” she says, adding that the farming technique reduces farming costs to minimal level.

To consumers, a small-scale vegetable grower says: “A major benefit to consumers of organic food is that it is free of contamination with health harming chemicals such as pesticides, fungicides and herbicides.”

“As you would expect of populations fed on chemically grown foods, there has been a profound upward trend in the incidence of diseases associated with exposure to toxic chemicals in industrialized societies.”

“These have been possible, through working in groups. This is a very good thing a poor woman like me. It was hard to convince people get into this group, but now everybody is smiling here,” Chonjo says, while seated at the group pavilion during the vegetable growers’ exhibitions held at Marangu Teachers’ College grounds.

She recounts that before getting into a group, it was hard for a village woman to access loans from financial institutions, because most have no collaterals required by most of the banks when it comes to issuing loans.

“But now, this remained as history of the past, as everyone gets a loan at anytime she wants. This makes members in the group to expand their activities and solve their social and economical problems,” Chonjo reveals, calling women in other areas, within Kilimanjaro region and outside to ensure that they form groups.

According to the Amani group leader, most of the group members have managed to build decent houses, and send their children in good schools, because of their gardening and related activities.

Dominista Raymond Mnenei is a successful banana farmer in Ashira village in Moshi Rural district and she is also a member of Upendo group. She hails Floresta Tanzania for their endeavors to boost banana farming in the area.

“Before, we’re discouraged with the low production of Banana in our area, but, after attending a series of training organized by Floresta Tanzania. Indeed, the training was very instrumental to me. As production of banana has gone high in my farm and farms of my colleagues, who have followed directives made by experts,” she says.

Mnenei sees banana as her saviour as it make her get all basic needs she wants, though she plans to expand the scope of banana market.

“If God wishes, I am planning to secure a market for my banana far from this area. This will increase my income more than I’m getting now,” she says. Right now banana farmers are selling their harvests in Marangu Mtoni, Mwika and neighbouring areas.

Clement Marko says: “Vegetable gardening is a very lucrative venture that gives you money in the shortest period of time, than any crop in this area. I just count days, before I start counting shillings.”

Marko is enthusiastic about the vegetable project since it started, and from the outset wanted to make the most of his opportunity.

“I am wondering as why youths are rushing into cities and urban centers for better live, when better life is in the villages. Here you can do everything you want, because we can easily access loans from VICOBA and improve farming activities and other economic ventures,” he boasts.

“We started with few people, who invested 1,000/- each in every week, but now every member is allowed to invest three shares of 2,000 every week,” he observes, adding that members are women, men and youths.

According to Marko, for a person to acquire Sacco’s membership is supposed to come from one of VICOBA banking available in the village.

A member of Evergreen group based in Marangu, Flora Mlay says despite engaging in vegetable farming, she also engages herself in goat rearing, which has contributed to change her livelihoods.

“I am rearing an improved breed of goats. On daily basis I get three to four litres of milk from one goat…this is a lot for village life and the price of goat milk is up compared to cow milk,” she says, adding that the group is also engaging into planting trees as part of conserving local environment in the area, in the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Mlay is commending Floresta for supporting the community in different ways which has changed the lifestyle of people in the area.

So far, VICOBA units have expanded into a giant saving and credit co-operative societies, popularly known as UVIMA Saccos.

Floresta trains groups of 30-40 members in rural savings, loans, and credit schemes. The VICOBA program is currently being implemented in 26 communities in the Siha, Moshi Rural and Same regions of Tanzania. VICOBA groups have allowed Floresta to expand its outreach and implement other initiatives such as organic farming, energy-efficient stoves, soil conservation, tree planting, ecotourism, eco-toilets, and capacity building.

Rombo District Commissioner, Peter Toima asks Floresta Tanzania to extend its wings in other districts in the region, because people in the remaining areas, share the same environment with those who have started benefiting from the project.

“You are in these three districts, why can’t you expand your horizon and cover the entire region of Kilimanjaro. I am here to represent people of Rombo who need such kinds of projects,” DC Toima says.

Chairman of the Horticulture Development Council of Tanzania (HODET), Felix Mosha, is optimistic that forging closer links with Foresta, will help to address challenges facing people who are engaging in horticulture activities in the area and the country at large.

He says challenges facing farmers are almost similar; hence they need collective efforts to address them. ­

Kilimanjaro Regional Commissioner (RC), Leonidas Gama hailed Floresta for organizing vegetable growers’ showcasing event, saying: “This plays an important role in boosting vegetable production in this area as it gives farmers an opportunity to get a closer link with local buyers.”

“This is a very recommendable initiative that needs to be boosted. It is high time for consumers to imbibe a culture of easting organic vegetables, because of its potentialities to users.”

The RC hails farmers for responding positively to the programme, calling hoteliers and other consumers like tourist companies to inculcate a habit of using locally produced harvests rather than relying heavily on imported ones.

“This will assure our farmers of reliable markets on what they produce. Through this spirit, we’ll be complementing government efforts to create employment for our people as well as scaling down poverty levels,” Gama says, adding: “This exhibition is an eye-opener and a source for closer relations between farmers and consumers.”

Gama reveals that production of vegetables has increased from 40,602 tones in 2001/02 to 92,250 in 2007/08 and export has increased from US$ 63,400 in 2001/02 to US$140,340 in 2007/08.

“This sector has contributed to the increase of employment opportunities from 12,000 in 2006 to 20,019 in 2009.”

Floresta Tanzania’s country director, Richard Mhina says that since 2004, his organization has grown to serve over 4000 farmers in the three districts and the project was meant to change the mindsets of villagers who rely on farming as their main activities in region.

He said that Floresta enables communities to share their field experiences and methodological innovations to address issues of practical and immediate value and acts as the voice from the field.

“Floresta utilizes an interactive approach to tackle issues of food security, environmental degradation, economic development, and poverty,” he said, adding: “Our mission is to ensure that farmers are properly trained on better farming practices as well as producing crops that meets international standards and meet world markets.”

He says some farmers have connected with Homeveg Company, which deals with shipping vegetables abroad, though the challenge is the volume of vegetables is small to meet the market demand.

The project is financed by USAID, in an endeavor to empower small-scale farmers and the project is set to end next year after ensuring that all farmers stood with their own feet.

Crops grown in the targeted area include green beans, and baby corn, which attract more foreign money.

Through its motto, “Healing the Land and its people”, Floresta is also interested to see the environment in the area is highly conserved and the nature is maintained as well as ensuring availability of water in the area

One of the advocated farming practices in the area is based on the need to apply manures—organic fertilizers, which are free from industrial chemicals.

Mhina says that those activities in the area are meant to rejuvenate the destroyed natural environment of the area whereby people are sensitized to plant natural trees and fruit trees in every household. “This is due to the fact that most areas in the region left bare because of human induced activities and high demand of charcoal and fire wood.”

Floresta is also in forefront in championing training on charcoal saving stoves technology in every household in the area.

A total of 2,000 villagers in the area have been reached by the organization’s training and have started using the charcoal saving stoves.

He also says: “This year’s vegetable growers’ showcasing event, gives an opportunity for farmers to exchange views amongst themselves and get a market links within and outside the country. On environment conservation initiative, the RC states that his authority was fully aware of environmental destruction on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

He says days are numbered for illegal loggers, and those involved in causing fire in the forest.

“We’ll also work closely with local government leaders on the need to collectively save the mountain and its biodiversity.”

The RC directs local government leaders to ensure that they closely work with the central government to conserve the natural forest.

“Planting trees in our localities, particularly on the catchment areas. And this should be our first priorities,” he stresses.

Gama notes that his office was very aware of the ongoing human induced activities along the margins of the mountain, which supports lives of more than three million people.

“The lives of all these people are at risk and as leaders we cannot keep quiet, so, we’ve put measures in place to avert the negative impacts caused by the vice,” he says, adding: “If this trend left unattended, the situation will also pose a negative impact on your daily activities.”

He informed vegetable growers to ensure that they work hand-in-glove in conserving the environment.

SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN
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