31 October 2013

Tanzanian journalist refuses to be intimidated

Arusha, Tanzania - Press freedom isn't usually ranked too high on the aid and development agenda.

In fact, it's usually ignored. Even as many laud efforts by the Tanzanian government to improve the lives of its citizens through agricultural reform and other development aims, journalists here are finding it increasingly difficult to do their work, informing fellow Tanzanians.

The government recently shut down two Swahili-language papers, Mwananchi and Mtanzania, at the end of September. Internal documents reveal that a story published Mwanachi with the new government salary structures was the cause for the closure.

Tanzania's relatively democratic government does not attract international headlines. It is in part due to its steadily improving economy and a president who plays nice with Western countries.  However, press freedom in the country are slowly eroding to the point that it is increasingly dangerous to do independent reporting in the country.

Freelance journalist Erick Kabendera, 34, is a case in point. Kabendera has become more cautious over the past few years.

Kabendera carries around his own wifi point in order to ensure the security of his computer. When at home, he uses a separate IP address from his wife in order to protect his family and their identity. Rumors spread recently that his wife is a nuclear scientist. Kabendera believes the government was behind it.

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30 October 2013

Changing climate threatens Tanzanian farmers

Broken water pump. Mlanda, Tanzania
Arusha, Tanzania - The stretch of road from Morogoro to Iringa cuts through Mikumi National Park before traversing the Udzungwa mountains. Dead baobab trees stand gray and fat against the seemingly endless stretches of dirt.

Changing rainfall patterns and a lack of overall water access is making life increasingly harder for Tanzania farmers. The country hopes to improve food security, nutrition and food production, but it may be impossible if things stay the same. The problems of climate change are playing out on the backs of the nation's small-holder farmers.

The once white-capped heights of Mt Kilimanjaro are now scattered with patches of earth that are evident when passing by plane. The WWF estimated a 55% glacier loss on the peak between 1962 and 2000. That in turn results in a reduction of cloud forests which means less water for the 1 million people living around the mountain.

It is possible that the snows of Kilimanjaro could be a fond memory by 2020.

The importance of water is visibly evident when rivers provide much needed water to nearby soil. Trees thrive and crops grow for a stretch of a few hundred feet alongside the water before returning to the vast dead landscape. The higher hills fare well due to the proximity the clouds

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29 October 2013

How land ownership can impact women's nutrition

Mwanza Bora member. Morogoro, Tanzania.
Arusha, Tanzania - Alfred Mufuga, 63, a farmer living outside of the town of Iringa, a few hour drive from Morogoro, does not think it is good for women to own land.

"The man is the head of the household," Mufuga said. "He ensures the prosperity of the family."

He did not say that his three wives would maintain ownership of his plot if something were to happen to him. Lack of land ownership, one of many forms of discrimination against women, is not just an economic and cultural inequity. It can be deadly.

An estimated 20% of maternal deaths in Tanzania are due to anemia, caused by malnutrition and lack of an adequate diet.

As Humanosphere reported last week, gender discrimination against women and girls often translates into malnutrition, higher disease and death rates. With Tanzania and other developing countries taking a greater investment in food security, women and girls need to be at the forefront of the conversation, says a new report.

"The needs of agricultural and rural women workers must be taken into account in recognizing their rights as workers in the food chain and ensuring their right to adequate food and nutrition," writes Sue Longley, international officer for agriculture and plantations at the International Food Union.

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28 October 2013

Maasai boys struggle with malnutrition

Uwiro, Tanzania - A drought in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area in northwest Tanzania claimed the lives of more than 200 children in 2011. The dry season and unsure rains mean that the Maasai children that live in the region are still at risk.

It may be the boys who are at the greatest risk.

Girls fall behind at an early age compared to their male peers around the world. The semi-nomadic Maasai tribe of Kenya and Tanzania are known for their male warriors, the morani. The masculine culture would lead one to conclude that the problems start with the girls, but it is the Maasai boys who are in trouble.

Boys traditionally take care of the cattle during the day, leaving them with little to eat for a day that requires a lot of walking and work. An analysis of the body mass index (BMI) of school-age boys and girls (between seven and nineteen years old) in the region shows a stark divide. Malnutrition is striking at a point of vital development for all children.

"We held a community meeting and people had no idea," said Silvia Ceppi, scientific adviser for the Italian NGO Oikos.

DSC_0095The hidden problem is in part due to the cultural structure of the Maasai. The girls are the ones who bring in money for a family when they are married. That means that they hold higher immediate value than their brothers for a family. Ceppi hypothesizes that this may contribute to a greater early investment in girls than in the boys.

It could also be a function of gender roles in the community. While the boys are out all day tending to the cattle in the fields, the girls are doing the work at home which includes cooking.

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25 October 2013

A perfect storm of farming interventions

Malala, 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
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.

Elembora Essi, 65, and Nancy Joseph, 37To 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.
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). 

24 October 2013

How solar is powering business in rural Tanzania

Lumanyaki SimionOldonyo-Sambu, Tanzania – It takes only an hour's drive from the major Tanzanian city of Arusha to arrive in Oldonyo-Sambu. While the distance connecting the small village famous for its giant market and a national hub, electricity has yet to arrive for the villagers.

The Italian conservation organization Oikos helped establish a solar energy program for the village in 2009. Technicians were trained, a building was built next to the market, residents led the business and sales begun. With its work done, Oikos stepped aside to allow the established business to run itself.

Now there are 300 customers for the solar panels, including five primary schools, two health centers and one secondary school. Bringing electricity to the schools provides light for the students and in one case allowed for the introduction of a computer.

“We haven't used the information age enough to solve our problems,” said Ramadhani Kupaza, Director of Oikos East Africa, speaking of Tanzania.
SImion enters his home that is powered by solar cells.Accomplishing that takes electricity. The Community Energy Center sells varying sized solar cells to community members and businesses ranging from twenty watts to one-hundred and forty watts. Options also exist for batteries to story the power captured by the cells.

Oikos staff stay in touch with the program, but have nothing to do with it at this point. With the proper set up, available materials and a technician who can repair broken parts, the project is running as its own business.

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23 October 2013

Can business solve Tanzania's agriculture problem

DSC_0275-e1380999665533-300x451Iringa, Tanzania - In center of this East African nation, two organizations are working with poor farmers to prove that business, rather than traditional aid, is the key to making sustainable gains out of poverty.

The idea is a popular one in the development community, and seemingly obvious, but moving from concept to reality has it challenges.

The government of Tanzania and foreign donors are intensely focused on improving food security. Two foreign firms, Cheetah Development and the One Acre Fund, are promoting market-based solutions to farmers that they contend are more productive and sustainable than charity or hand-outs.

It is worth noting, perhaps, that both are non-profit organizations that depend upon charity and donations in the West to catalyze their for-profit business solutions in Africa. But more important is that One Acre Fund is monitoring and evaluating its projects; Cheetah simply assumes if people buy-in to its small for-profit venture here, that's proof enough of its impact.

The two organizations are neighbors in Iringa, a small agricultural community in a very dry part of the country. The rains have not yet arrived and red dust coats the withered maize stalks.

Though located literally next door to each other, Cheetah and One Acre Fund take significantly different approaches to the needs of Tanzanian farmers. Cheetah takes a page from the business handbook, having launched a for-profit subsidiary that tracks sales of products - like its newly launched solar food drying system - to determine what is or is not working. One Acre Fund (OAF) offers loans, does farmer training and evaluates progress each step of the way.

The number of people reached by the two may reflect their respective tactics. Reservoir, a business under Cheetah that sells solar drying racks to farmers, has reached only 55 farmers so far this year. OAF worked with 1,150 farmers in the 2012 growing season, its first in Tanzania, and will enroll more than 3,000 for the upcoming planting season.

Continue reading in humanosphere...

22 October 2013

Bringing better nutrition to Tanzania's farmers

Abdullah Muhammad in his home.
Morogoro, Tanzania - Abdullah Yahya's farm sits above the dirt road that is unfriendly to cars after it rains.

Corn stalks remain in the ground, withered by a lack of recent rains. The morning rain is a good sign. Abdullah will soon uproot the failed crop and plant wit the hopes of a successful harvest.

He lives in a two-room home with his wife Zainabu, their four year-old son Idrisa and one year-old daughter Ailat (rhymes with violet). Another son lives with Zainbu's brother. Idrisa is tiny and shy. By appearances he looks smaller than the average boy his age. Ailat, on the other hand, is full-faced and engaging with everyone around her.

Zainabu says the difference is because she continues to breastfeed her daughter, but did not do so for the boys. She learned through the Mwanzo Bora Nutrition Program (MBNP), implemented by the NGO AfriCare, that she should continue breastfeeding for the first two years of Ailat's life.

While the measurable impact of the scheme on stunting is not available, the participants appear to be happy with the program so far. Mothers said their children are gaining weight, reported breastfeeding infants longer and said their children are noticeably healthier.

One measure is getting better. Child weights are improving from month to month over the past year. Six percent of children were characterized as wasted (critically below healthy weight for the appropriate age group) in September 2012. Last month, that number reached zero after a steady decline. More children are considered on target now than a year ago by more than 10 percentage points.
Zainabu Muhammad holds her daughter, Ailat.
"We fed the other babies differently," said Zainabu as she held a restless Ailat. Malaria led to a hospitalization for Idrisa in June, but Ailat has yet to experience any illness beyond the common cold.

However notable gaps exist. The government does not ask health workers to collect information on heights. When asked for the recent information on stunting, the nurse-midwife at the Towero Clinic was unable to produce data. A pilot program is underway, said a Mwanzo Bora staffer, but measurements for children should not transition to country-wide until next year.

Abudullah points out his one acre plot up in the mountains.Mwanzo Bora also had little information to provide. A piece of paper posted on the office wall accounted for regional coverage. Sixty-one percent of health facilities in the region are covered by the nutrition program. Yet no information is available on how the program is improving farms and increasing nutrition.
Zainbu learned about the program after seeking pre-natal care at the government-run Towero Clinic. There, women were provided education about the importance of nutrition for their children and themselves. Mwanzo Bora is funded by the United States for International Development's Feed the Future program. It sets out to reduce childhood stunting and maternal anemia by 20% respectively.

Groups of twelve to fifteen men and women were formed across the region. More than 700 groups have been wormed, reaching nearly 8,000 people. Behavior change is one of the core goals of the program. MBNP uses different strategies to improve nutrition for families.

Mothers were not only taught how to feed their children better, but were encouraged to plant more nutritious foods. A community plot was established a year ago with some other families. The small parcel of land grows crops such as kale, onions, tomatoes and sweet potatoes. Labor is divided every Friday when the group meets. The harvest is divided up among the families and money earned from the sale is used to buy more seeds for a new round of planting.

The lessons from the plots are then applied to farms at home. Crops like sweet potatoes, rich with the valuable vitamin A, are now grown on family farms. Some of the work got started in the community garden and was transferred directly to the individual farms, making it a sort of nursery for the families.

An informal credit and savings scheme exists within the group. Money is held by the treasurer who offers 3 month loans at 5% interest. A bank account is of interest down the line, but the present goal is to get the loans repaid and back out quickly.

"The money is not held for long," said the group leader."We try to borrow as soon as it comes in."

Situated in the Uluguru mountains, Morogoro is located in the southern highlands of Tanzania. The city is right in the middle of the Southern Agricultural Corridor of Tanzania, a focal point of Tanzania's agriculture and nutrition improvement efforts.
Community garden plot.
The city itself is at the base of the mountains, but may farmers live along the hillside. Abdullah has a main cash-crop situated higher in the mountains. He says that the rain and irrigation are better up there. For his home plot, Abdullah relies on regular rains, controlled irrigation ditches that wind down the mountain and a running river that lies a few hundred feet below the property.

Fertilizer, bought at the nearby university and carried by head back up the mountain, has helped Abudullah's crops. He says yields are up two to three times since he started using the manure-based fertilizer on his farmland. Raising rabbits helps to further diversify the family's income generating opportunities, but all is reliant upon the crops.

Is Mwanana Bwanzo helping to improve Abudullah's fields and the health of Zainabu and Ailat? It is hard to know for sure, but they think things are better.

"Yes, we are doing better than our neighbors," whispered Zainabu when asked how their farm compared to others since joining the program.

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

21 October 2013

Tanzania makes agriculture a top development priority

This originally appeared on Humanosphere.

(Dar es Salaam) - Tanzania may be newly rich in natural gas reserves, but government officials say improving agriculture is the number one priority to reach middle income status by 2025.

The East African country's Kilimu Kwanza (Farming First) program is proof that while the country expects to benefit overall as a gas producer, many see agriculture as critical to improving the lives of the average citizen.

More than 40 percent of all Tanzanian children experience stunted growth, an indicator of serious malnutrition and a statistic many here are determined to change.

“You will see the issue of the lack of nutrition in this country,” said Christopher Chiza, Minister of Agriculture for Tanzania.

Africa is awash with talk about how to improve agriculture, ensure food security and reduce the toll of malnutrition. Tanzania is one of a few countries where population growth continues to exceed reductions made in malnutrition and maternal anemia.

These concerns were targeted by an effort known as the Scaling Up Nutrition partnership. Tanzania's 40 percent rate of stunting in children, combined with a 25 percent malnutrition rate and 58 percent maternal anemia rate adds up to a significant food problem here.

It gets even worse in rural areas where more than half live in poverty. In response, the government of Tanzania is focusing on an agricultural corridor that extends from Dar es Salaam on the middle coast south-west to neighboring Zambia. Called the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT), the government is betting that this region can see a major boost in production that will propel the overall development of Tanzania.

An agricultural plan presented by President Kikwete at the 2011 World Economic Forum led to a blueprint for the SAGCOT private-public partnership. It seeks to increase the production of maize, rice and sugar to the point that the farmers can not only feed Tanzania, but sell in neighboring countries.

As recent as last year, the Agriculture Ministry imposed export bans as a way to ensure that food produced in Tanzania reaches Tanzanians. The measures failed as they led to food spoilage due to disrupted crop prices and the inability to sell what was harvested.

With the bans lifted, the government is courting international players and businesses to invest in agriculture in Tanzania. Chiza made it clear that he does not want it to be a corporate social responsibility program for a major corporation. He wants to work with the companies who see Tanzania as an opportunity to make money and do business.

There are concerns that the move will lead to land grabs seen in other parts of Africa. Chiza spoke of the importance of small-scale farmers, but only 10% have land ownership rights. He said that determinations were done at the village level and shrugged off the need to enshrine land ownership for each family.

“We put in corrective measures so that large scale and small-scale farmers can work together,” he said.

The government, for its part, wants to step aside. Chiza said that past attempts to centrally plan agriculture growth failed. Partnering with the private sector represents the shift away from planning. Though there still is an active role for the ministry. It will involve itself in the partnerships, push certain farmers to use certain crops and continue to tout the benefits of fertilizer.

Chiza even alluded to legislative action that would compel farmers who are unwilling to change the crops they grow to make changes. The need to improve roads, an area Chiza admits the country neglected, adds yet another layer to the requirements for improving agriculture in Tanzania.

100 nutrition officers will soon be deployed for a country of 48 million people. They will work as a part of a nation-wide behavior change effort, said Obey N. Assery, the Director of the Department of Coordination of Government Business. Nutrition is more than just a health issue, he said, but was unable to name what the country is doing to deal with the immediate problem.

The United States is working to improve agriculture through its program, Feed the Future. Established in 2009, Feed the Future was born out of a pledge by President Obama to commit $3.5 billion to agriculture development during the G8 summit in Italy.

The Tanzanian government's commitment to improving agriculture influenced the implementation of FTF for $350 million over five years. It is the largest non-health program that the US runs in Tanzania and is in response to a lull in agriculture support during the 1990s.

Once a strong investor in agriculture, the United States drew down its spending on international agriculture programs during the 90s. When the 2008 financial crisis hit and food prices spiked, it became apparent to many that agriculture investments were vital to a nation's development.

“Greater production will lead to higher incomes that can stimulate economic growth,” said Tom Hobgood , Team Leader for Agriculture and Food Security at USAID Tanzania.

The program is focusing on rice, maize and horticulture to achieve its growth goals. Rice is meant to provide income opportunities for farmers and horticulture will provide valuable nutrition to families through foods like tomatoes.

Hobgood says that it is a really important area because women not only are a significant part of the agriculture labor force (~80% make their living through agriculture), but they are the ones who make the nutrition decisions for their children. Like the Tanzanian government, USAID is increasingly aware of the connections between agriculture and nutrition.

“Unless you improve nutrition and agriculture you aren’t going to grow in away that helps people,” he explains.

Tanzania, on the other hand, is not quite on board. There were mentions of women and their connection to nutrition, but programs that are aimed at women through the Ministry of Agriculture were hard to name for Chiza.

FTF has its sights set on improving the food security in 200,000 households, reaching 1 million people. Other goals in the target areas include reducing the poverty rate by 6 percentage points, increased crop yields, improved market access and the reduction of maternal anemia and childhood stunting by 20%.

The plans created by Tanzania stand out to donors like the United States government. While the US is pushing for some changes within the government, such as changing tax rules, the goals of Kilimu Kwanza and Feed the Future are directly aligned. Whether they can achieve their intended goals remains to be answered.

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