Lydia Jacob grows her vegetables organically in Mwanamseka, a village in the Coast Region, about 100 kilometres west of Dar es Salaam. The climate here is wet and the land is loamy soil with a good amount of organic matter.
Mrs. Jacob is a mother of four and the chairperson of a group called Upendo, which has 16 members. When the group members first came together, they discussed entrepreneurship and business skills. But in 2014 they started to focus on agriculture, buying 22 acres of land in Mwanamseka and Mafizi villages.
Since then, 10 group members have been actively farming, growing fruit and vegetables from June to March, including okra, tomato, watermelon, Chinese cabbage, spinach, onion, and sweet potato leaves. They are using organic practices.
Organic agriculture prohibits the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Instead, it focuses on techniques which protect the environment, soil, and health of consumers, including intercropping and using organic manure. The Upendo group has a good market locally and internationally for their organic vegetables, although the small-scale farmers are struggling to meet the high demand.
The members of the group sell their produce at the Ilala and Kariakoo markets in Dar es Salaam, and to individuals and companies in the city. Mrs. Jacob adds, “Internationally, we have had two orders from Australia and The Netherlands. Recently, we had another order from the United Kingdom.”
But, she says: “We have failed to fulfill these orders … because we don’t have the capacity to produce [the] between two and five tonnes required by the international clients…. The quantity … of what we produce is very little.”
The farmers would have needed to ship each order in several 40-foot shipping containers. Further, they were expected to use expensive packaging materials to meet European standards, at a cost of about $7,000 US. Mrs. Jacob says, “These are some of the constraints that make us fail to do business with readily available clients.”
Anatory Gabriel is the manager of information and communication with the Tanzania Organic Agriculture Movement, or TOAM. TOAM is an NGO that promotes organic agriculture by working with small-scale farmers and other stakeholders in the organic production chain.
He agrees that organic foods have a great market at home and abroad. He adds, “The problem is that these small-scale farmers don’t have the capacity to meet either the local or the international markets.”
Mrs. Jacob says her group’s strength is access to fertile land, perfect for growing crops without the use of synthetic pesticides or fertilizers. But they need an investor to help financially and technologically. She adds that contract farming would allow them to scale up their production to meet international demand.
The Upendo group was drawn to organic agriculture after having bad experiences with chemicals when they produced batik, a kind of dyed cloth. Mrs. Jacob said they became wary of strong chemicals after hearing about studies showing that harsh chemicals can have serious health consequences.
She adds, “Before venturing into organic agriculture, we underwent various trainings on the advantages of organic farming versus the impacts caused by farming using chemicals.”
TOAM supports farmers to introduce organic practices. Mr. Gabriel says, “Organic agriculture combines tradition, innovation, and science to benefit the shared environment and promote fair relationships and a good quality of life for all involved.”
TOAM teaches farmers who cannot afford to buy organic pesticides how to make them at home using ingredients from their immediate surroundings. TOAM encourages farmers to intercrop, save crop residues, and not cut down trees. Rather than using synthetic fertilizers, they advise farmers to use organic fertilizers if their soil is infertile.
Mr. Gabriel says TOAM also trains farmers to use practices that make their farms resistant to drought, by, for example, advising them to grow crops that can survive drought and are resistant to pests. He says, “We help them to understand the environment. We give them plan B on how to survive when faced by climate change challenges.”
With the high market demand for organic products, the Upendo group members are making a good income. Nassoro Ulembo is a father of five. The 41-year-old says, “Organic agriculture has enabled me to construct a house, and manage my family by paying school fees to my children.”
Hamis Makunganya is another member of the group. The 43-year-old is a father of five living in Mafizi village. He says, “Through organic farming, I have been able to build two houses. And I have spent some of the money to send my children to school.”
Tanzania Organic Agriculture Movement is a partner of Uniterra Tanzania. Uniterra Tanzania works with local partners in the fruit and vegetable and tourism sub-sectors to help young people and women access better economic opportunities. Uniterra provided funding for this story. Learn more and follow Uniterra Tanzania on Facebook at: facebook.com/wusctanzania