Paddy Roberts | March 23, 2015
Two or three tiny patches of blue peek through the otherwise leaden, cloudy sky. Occasional breezes merely stir the oppressive humidity. The rains are due, but no rain has fallen for weeks.
Despite the atmospheric challenges, members of the Agape radio listening group are cheerful. They are harvesting local leafy vegetables and making money at the market. The members meet once a week in the small village of Makiba to listen to the farming program, Farhari yangu, or “My pride.”
Upendo Sylvester is a member of the Agape group. She joins the others as they listen to farmer programs on Radio 5 FM, broadcast from Arusha, a city about 40 kilometres to the northeast.
Resplendent in bright clothes, Mrs. Sylvester talks animatedly about how much she enjoys Farhari yangu. The program is backed by Farm Radio International and Irish Aid, and its contents are devised by Radio 5 and guided by the farmers themselves. The programs help farmers grow, cook, preserve and market fresh, leafy vegetables such as mchicha, a local spinach-like plant.
The 44-year old widow says, “I learnt that green vegetables are an essential part of our diets … I used to overcook mchicha, but now I only boil it for a few minutes before serving it with our meal.”
Every day, buyers come to collect Mrs. Sylvester’s harvest of local vegetables – mchicha, tembele and majani ya kunde – to sell in the market in nearby Mererani. Her earnings have doubled since she started to use the growing techniques she learned from Farhari yangu.
Mary Mashaka farms on about one hectare of land near the village. The 27-year-old mother of two enjoys gathering with her friends to discuss what they hear on the weekly program. She says, “What one of us does not understand, another can explain. It is a good way to learn.”
Since listening to the radio program, she has expanded the area she farms. She planted mainly maize, but now she grows local vegetables for the market. She, too, is making more money.
Mrs. Mashaka says: “I used to harvest mchicha three times a year and earn about 70,000 shillings [$37 U.S.] each time. But now, I know to cut the leaves from the plant rather than pulling them off, which means that the plant recovers and yields better.” She now harvests the leaves, rich in vitamin A and iron, four times a year. She earns 100,000 shillings [$53 U.S.] each time, doubling her previous income from the vegetables.
Maryam Daudi Msemo is another member of the group. She says she trusts the accuracy of the information she hears on Farhari yangu. Mrs. Msemo knows that the radio production team listens and responds to farmers’ views and questions. She says, “I called up for information on how and when to apply pesticides. The answer came on the program only a couple of weeks later.”
Mrs. Msemo is earning enough to send her three children to a local private school. She says, “I am investing my increased income in my children’s future – I want them to be independent.”
Amina Saidi is a group member who plans to start growing the vegetables next season. As the call to prayer sounds from the local mosque, the mother of six says: “I had already planted maize and cassava before the program started. But, from what I can see my friends achieving, I’ll definitely plant more vegetables to feed to my family and sell at the market.”
The group members are better off economically and their diets have improved. Mrs. Sylvester says, “I wasn’t keen on vegetables before. But now I feel healthier and more energetic. My children are at school. I hope to earn enough to renovate my house.”
Photo: Amina Saidi. Photo credit: Paddy Roberts