Mastering Sustainable Agriculture Methods in Arusha, Tanzania
During my 10 weeks in Arusha, Tanzania I was constantly performing a variety of tasks. I was part of Global Service Corps’s (GSC) Sustainable Agriculture branch, not to be confused with its HIV/AIDS wing. As a long term member of the SA program my time was occupied by these activities: my orientation training, initial training of farmers groups, follow up training of farmers groups, development of organizational farm plots, and land cultivation for schools and orphanages.
My first week in Arusha consisted of my SA training. The initial training was done at the GSC office in Arusha town. It was a combination of daily cultural background lessons on Massai and Meru peoples, organizational history lessons, preliminary HIV/AIDS training, and Swahili lessons. The second half of the training was located in LITI Tengeru and was on SA specifics, agricultural education, and SA practical farm work.
After my training was complete, along with my fellow SA volunteers, I went strait into teaching trainings. My first training was a follow up training in Kilala (14 kilometers east of Arusha). The purpose of follow up trainings was to meet farmers groups who had previously been trained by GSC in SA methods and observe their gardens, to critique their progress, suggest solutions, and continue to motivate them. During an average follow up training I would, along with a Tanzanian counterpart, first meet with many of the farmers in the farmers group.
This introduction would both help me get to know the farmers and help the farmers to be more at ease around me. Then we would inspect each farmer’s farm. As we saw problems, we would make suggestions and help the farmers prepare to fix their problems. These problems were both physical (such as a plant pest) and strategic (questions over which crops to grow). Usually at least one day was spent doing a communal work project, which was either digging a farmers bed, weeding a bed, or planting, and the last day was often spent giving a follow up lesson to all farmers that focused on the major issues that we had observed in our tours of all the groups’ farms.
After we had finished the follow up training we would record our findings and activities and report them to GSC. With our records on file we as an organization could observe our success rates, overall problems, and overall solutions groups were finding.
Follow up trainings, while often extremely slow and tedious -some days we would have to wait for hours for farmers to be ready for us - were extremely valuable for the entire SA program. One major value was, as I previously mentioned, for record keeping. By understanding the details of our trainings and our results, GCS could better fine tune its education and training programs. Another extremely important value was that follow up trainings gave us the opportunity to help farmers adjust to sustainable agriculture methods.
The SA methods can often be difficult to first master, or overwhelming to some farmers. Our assistance through follow up trainings was meant to help farmers achieve the best results with their crops and thus have a better chance to continue farming with SA methods. One more effect of the follow up trainings was to keep GSC and its work fresh in the minds of the local communities. Even our shortest visits left the local communities talking about us for weeks. As a result, GSC has been asked by more and more farmers groups to conduct initial trainings and spread its agricultural methods.
Following my first experience doing a follow up training, I then began an initial training to a farmers group around Shangari (around eight kilometers east of Arusha). Initial trainings are the heart and soul of the SA program. They are the trainings by which local farmers learn SA methods and can then begin farming with them themselves. For a typical initial training GSC helps to organize farmers groups, headed by a chairperson (a respected community member and farmer who as offered to help and lead the others) and sets up a week of training times.
During that week GSC volunteers come to the farmers groups and, in a school like setting, explain SA methods and theory. That teaching is then followed by practical work where farmers are both shown how to, and then make themselves, the physical aspects of SA (such as double dug beds and compost piles). At the end of every initial training all members of the farmers group are awarded with certificates of completion of SA training by GSC.
The SA initial trainings are the building blocks of GSC’s SA program. Through the initial trainings GSC coordinates large groups of rural farmers (sometimes as much as 60 farmers) and teaches them all SA methods through lecture and practicals. Because Tanzanian society and culture is oriented so much around local communities, the farmers groups have succeeded extremely well so far. By training farmers in groups it not only allows GSC to train many farmers at once, it creates momentum to farm with SA methods in the entire community and it gives farmers friends and neighbors to rely on and support in the initial and following adaptation of those methods.
The third official activity that I undertook in coordination with GSC was the construction of small farms (double dug beds, compost piles, and sack gardens) for needy institutions such as orphanages and schools. Because orphanages and schools often have little time to farm and little money to buy quality food, GSC contributes by constructing those types of small farm features to increase food production, thus giving the students more and healthier food. During my time are Arusha I was involved in two such projects; one project was at an orphanage/child care center around Kilala where I dug a large bed, made a compost pile, and made two sack gardens. The other project was at a primary school in Kwa idi where we dug two double dug beds, made a compost pile, and one sack garden.
Throughout my ten weeks in Arusha I went from training to training all around the area. I made so many visits to so many places that I cannot recall the exact order or locations of them all. For the most part however they all fit the description of either the initial trainings, follow up trainings, or charity farm building I have described above.
The Christianson Fellowship, by helping me work and live abroad, has greatly influenced my international understanding. By living with my home stay family in Shangari, I was forced to think about what the true keys for family happiness are. From my experience, they are not modern kitchen appliances, a stove, electronics, toys, or even extra cash, because for the most part, my family, and many of the happy Tanzanian families I met in my work, had none of those. Instead, it was having a safe neighborhood, a roof over their heads, and food on the table that many Tanzanians I talked to seemed to value the most. In a country dominated by poverty, crime, and famine, those qualities surly make sense. However, those features also are part of our more basic needs, needs which often get forgotten and lost in our Western society.
My work experience has also greatly expanded my knowledge and understanding of East African agriculture and economics. Because of the rising cost of petrol and chemicals, many Tanzanian farmers actually farm at a financial loss each year. One of the main reasons GSC offers SA training is that it provides quality farming without the use of expensive pesticides and chemical fertilizers. However, because there is no organic produce market in East Africa, farmers do not get paid any more for their organic crops at market.
Many, because they don’t keep records, end up opting for the less work intensive chemical farming, rather than the more work intensive SA farming as trained by GSC. Because of that farmers are continuing to get poorer and the overuse of chemical fertilizers and pesticides is killing local soils, causing massive and devastating soil erosion, and harming both local people and animals. Given those circumstances, I fully understand, unlike someone who had not at first had experiences in East Africa, why GSC and similar organizations are trying extremely hard to create an efficient organic produce certifier in addition with an international East African organic produce market.
My stay in Tanzania, in both length and location, has given me a perspective I would never have been able to gain otherwise. I have been able to talk with local farmers about farming and the produce markets, I have been able to talk with teachers about students, teaching methods, and foreign investment, and I have been able to talk with my Tanzanian counterparts about the impact and perception of the United States in East Africa. Nothing could be more valuable than to hear a teacher talk to me about problems of teacher-student sexual abuse or a farmer describe the crippling effects of crime around his home.
If I am giving the opportunity later in my life to work on international policy I will remember what I have learned. Local specifics can be extremely important and can only be assessed by people who have spent significant portions of time in those areas. General policy could run into major trouble if it overlooks the local specifics of a region.
I would like to once again thank InterExchange for my Christianson Fellowship and all that it has helped me accomplish and experience.
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