Tanzania: Farmers choose organic methods despite market challenges

| July 30, 2018

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Holding out a bundle of mint in the palm of his hand, a smiling man in a dark blue sweater says, “They call me Mr. Spice.”

Mr. Spice is an organic spice farmer from Arusha in northern Tanzania who also goes by the name of Samson Laizer.

Mr. Laizer hauls his spices from a plot of land near Mount Meru Hotel to the Arusha farmer’s market. His rich collection of fragrant plants such as lavender, basil, and marjoram has earned him the nickname “Mr. Spice.”

Mr. Laizer started working for a social enterprise company called Mesula after seeing what he calls the “excessive” amount of pesticides farmers were using on their crops.

He says that, instead of waiting the 14 days required after spraying to ensure that crops are safe to consume, farmers were so impatient that they sold the crops before the 14-day period was complete. This, he explains, is what motivated him to work for Mesula.

He adds, “People get sick because of these chemicals that can kill people.”

Mr. Laizer points out that a lot of produce can survive without pesticides. Herbs and spices generally don’t require protection because they ward off pests naturally.

Steven Matthew Loy is a program coordinator at Mesula. He says, “Organic farming protects the ecosystem and animal habitats. Conventional farming kills even the good insects.”

Mr. Loy adds: “Since the [income] of the local communities is a bit low, Tanzanian people have the perception that organic prices are a bit high. But three weeks ago, I bought broccoli here at Mesula—half a kilo for 1,500 Tanzanian shillings [US$0.66]. Then I went to the market and saw half a kilo of broccoli being sold for 2,000 Tanzanian shillings [US$0.88].”

Recently, Mesula reached out to Arusha’s tourism sector in an effort to make their organic products more readily available to tourists.

Mr. Loy says, “We tried to connect to hotels. But it seems like they are more interested in profit than the health of their clients.”

Nadia Lampkin is a research and policy analyst with Agricultural Non State Actors Forum, a member-led network of commercial agricultural groups, NGOs, and Tanzanian farmer groups. Ms. Lampkin has worked closely with both the organic and tourism sectors. She thinks the tourism industry just hasn’t realized the long-term monetary value of organic products.

She says: “Tourists are limited to hotels and restaurants for their food. If the accommodation was expanded, it would allow tourists who are concerned with how their food is grown to buy their own produce and search for organic products. In my opinion, the tourism industry doesn’t facilitate this.”

She says that awareness is the first step towards bridging the tourism and organic sectors. More exposure to the benefits of organic food and more information about conventional farming practices could boost demand for organic products from tourists.

Meanwhile, the demand for organic products abroad is rapidly growing. According to The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements, Tanzania has the sixth highest number of certified organic producers in the world, and the second largest number in Africa—just behind Uganda.

But in order for Tanzanians to export their organic crops, they must apply for organic certification. Ms. Lampkin says that, for many farmers, the high cost of certification is not a viable option. And without certification, farmers are unable to participate in the international organic market.

She says: “… without certification, these farmers do not get the premium prices their certified counterparts do, who primarily sell their produce to international markets.”

Ms. Lampkin points out that organizations such as Tanzanian Organic Agricultural Movement, or TOAM, are working to support organic farmers in Tanzania. She cites a woman named Jessica as an example of how perceptions toward the organic industry have changed. Mrs. Jessica learned about the benefits of buying and selling organics through trainings with TOAM. Now she has a thriving business selling organic food in Dar es Salaam, the largest city in Tanzania.

Although many Tanzanians resist buying organics, Mr. Laizer has made a successful living from his organic herbs and spices. With his earnings, he is sending his three children to a private academy in Arusha.

Mr. Laizer says: “I want to encourage people to use organic products. I want to paint ‘Eat organic’ on a huge billboard. People think we don’t have organics in Arusha, but we do have it at Mesula.”

Ash Abraham was a Uniterra volunteer based in Arusha, Tanzania. She worked with Abraham Godwin on this story.

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. Uniterra receives financial support from the Government of Canada, provided through Global Affairs Canada, www.international.gc.ca. Learn more and follow Uniterra Tanzania on Facebook at: facebook.com/wusctanzania