Tanzania: Vegetables key to new Maasai enterprises

| July 15, 2013

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Mama Elialilia grasps her daughter-in-law’s arm and beams an engaging smile. She says, “I am so proud of her! I have a new kerosene stove because of our garden.” The younger woman, Ndoye Erasto, has been growing and selling vegetables to supplement the family’s income this year.

Sitting in the shade of a huge acacia tree, Mrs. Erasto explains: “I joined in a program to learn how to grow vegetables. They are very expensive here in Longido, and often not fresh.”

Longido is a town about 20 kilometres south of the Kenyan border. Many Maasai in this area have been forced to change their diets after the recent droughts which decimated their herds.

Testigo Africa is an Australian-funded organization which created a program to introduce the Maasai to growing their own food. The organization trained four groups of Maasai villagers how to establish vegetable gardens. Most participants are women, but more men are joining now that they have seen the women’s success.

Although she had no experience growing vegetables, Mrs. Erasto discovered a great affinity for plants, and has since trained a fifth group of gardeners in the village of Kimokouwa. This group too has proved skilled at growing vegetables. According to Mrs. Erasto, growing vegetables was hard to begin with. But once foods such as kale, Chinese cabbage and nightshade were ready to harvest, she knew the hard work was worth it.

She says: “I could earn 20,000 shillings ($12 US) a week. I found that the teachers at the school where I cook wanted fresh vegetables, so I sold to them as well.”

Rebecca Kankai is another beneficiary of the program. Her family lost 90 per cent of their livestock between 2006 and 2009. She tried to make ends meet by gathering firewood and selling charcoal. But after being introduced to vegetable gardening, she can feed her family of four children and have enough left over to sell at the market. Mrs. Kankai made over 100,000 Tanzanian shillings ($60 US) during her first season. She used the money to buy things she cannot grow − tea, sugar, cooking pans, and school uniforms for her children.

Emmanuel Saakai is the Tanzania country manager for Testigo Africa. He says it is difficult finding water in this area; the soil is barren and dry. He says, “We showed our people how to refresh their soils with manure, and how to use the water they have more efficiently.” Mr. Sakai set up an experimental drip irrigation scheme in the demonstration plot. He adds, “Much of [their] time is taken with watering. If we can get this system to work, it will save a lot of effort.”

Namnyak Lengunin is a mother of two with a quarter-hectare garden beside her house. She is a member of a growers’ group in Oltepesi, a village at the foot of Mount Longido. The peak of Mount Meru is visible to the south of her home, and the snowy summit of Kilimanjaro to the southwest.

Mrs. Lengunin carries a mobile phone in a pouch on a string around her neck. She says the phone is essential to her business, and helps her respond to people calling to arrange vegetable deliveries. Mrs. Lengunin managed to save 70,000 shillings of her earnings from selling vegetables. She used the money to help her eldest son complete his primary education. She says, “My husband said that it was my responsibility, so the vegetables paid for my son to stay at school.”

Mrs. Lengunin wants to earn more next season. She says, “I want to buy my own cows and goats. Then I will be [financially] independent.”

Back in Longido, Mama Elialilia mentions another benefit of selling vegetables. She grins, “I used to have to carry 200 litres of water from the public tap in town to my house every week. Now I can pay someone to bring it for me.”