“Seeing is Believing: Good Agricultural Practices Model Farm”
A couple of days ago I was having a conversation with my brother-in-law who serves as an accountant at Tanzania Horticultural Association (TAHA), Arusha offices. As a prospective vegetable farmer, I was curious to understand the role and functions of TAHA in the horticultural sub sector.
I was rather shocked to learn that the largest country in East Africa geographically, with a population of approximately 49.6M people, has a rough estimate of only 11,000 registered horticultural farmers. Translate this to a percentage and you get a heart-wrenching figure of 0.022%.
Don’t get me wrong, though; agriculture is and remains the predominant sector in Tanzania. It is instrumental in poverty reduction, providing employment for the majority of the population and accounting for 26.7% of our country’s GDP.
The horticulture sub-sector (a pertinent component of the sector) has grown significantly in the last decade, but the 0.022% is proof that by volume it still represents a very small part of the overall agricultural industry.
You see, what is mind boggling about this figure is that horticulture has been around since the early 17th century, when growth of large cities made it impractical for individuals to produce the necessary garden crops on their own property. Horticulture did not defy time to make it to the 21st Century by sheer luck; as a matter of fact, modern horticulture is a multi-million dollar business, particularly in advanced countries.
Horticulture contributes significantly to food security, nutrition improvement and general economic growth. In Tanzania, the sub-sector has been identified as one of the priority sectors in the National Export Strategy of 2008 for being a key source of foreign exchange earnings.
In fact, Tanzania has a very high potential for producing horticultural crops given the existing wide range of climatic conditions that allow for production of temperate, sub-tropical and tropical horticultural crops. But lest you are fooled by the potential and the statistics, the horticultural sub-sector in Tanzania could sadly, and rapidly at that, turn out to be a house of cards if the right problems are not identified.
Let’s face it: complex problems and constraints bedevil the subsector. Ninety percent of the 11,000 horticulturalists practice flower horticulture or floriculture. Only 10% of that number practice vegetable and spice farming, which, ironically, has a higher demand in the country and in the external regions.
The majority of this 10% are smallholder farmers (most hold 1 ha of land or less) who practice horticulture on a subsistence scale such that the bulk of production is absorbed fully by the local towns and cities, with little or nothing left for export.
Other challenges like a weak production base, low productivity and quality, invisibility and marginalization and limited access to investment finances, among others, are barely a true representation of the real challenge facing our horticultural industry: the lack of information and guidance on proper practices of horticultural farming.
I reside in Nduruma, a village in Tanzania where possessing large tracts of land is a measure of wealth. My kinsmen have engaged in traditional farming for far longer than one can remember and for a long time now contemporary farm crops like maize, beans and potatoes have remained the choice plants for most farmers.
There is, however, a disturbing trend currently going on in the villages. Many land owners are selling off huge chunks or all of their land to real estate developers or large-scale floriculture farmers. In a desperate quest to understand the underlying motivation, I did a literature review on the matter and interviewed several farmers that had either sold or were in the process of selling their land.
As I came to learn, these farmers’ concerns and fears are as real as they are genuine. Ninety-two percent of these farmers feel that traditional farming as a practice has done its time, bringing them more loss than good. Farmers therefore opt to sell their land rather than continue in the heavy investments that prove futile at the end of a planting season.
While one may want to condemn their decisions as hasty, these farmers confess that they lack the necessary information on good, profitable and value-adding agricultural practices that could make the difference between giving up and making a profit from farming. A few farmers have attempted to vary land usage by giving horticulture farming a shot, only to give up again because of lack of properly structured information and knowledge that is the key to investing in any horticultural farming venture.
Most farmers, observing and learning from the failures of fellow farmers have decided to avoid horticulture altogether. This is not their fault, I should emphasize, because how will these farmers not give up if the government itself does not have policies or any infrastructure to support horticultural farming?
Even where we have an apex private sector association like TAHA, this only has 11 trained agronomists (can you imagine!?) to serve its population of 11,000 farmers with technical support, consultation, research and development, and general promotion of products!
As I mentioned above, Tanzania has a comparative advantage to venture robustly in horticultural farming. The climate is as favourable as it can get. We possess vast arable lands and fertile soils located at different altitudes/temperatures from temperate to tropical. Our economy is stable, the political will is reliable and the competitive costs cannot get any better than they are at present.
My name is Carolyn Kandusi from Arusha, Tanzania, aged 29 years. I am a graduate in Mass Communication with a Master’s degree in Governance & Leadership. I am currently working with a non-governmental organization that works with the nomadic community in Tanzania to help them identify and practice good land usage.
As a young, educated, informed and exposed leader, a philanthropist and an avid member of one of the largest agricultural-based movements, AgriProFocus, I believe I have the solution that can salvage horticultural farming in my country, especially the Northern corridor (Arusha, Kilimanjaro, Tanga and Manyara regions) where my village is located.
Because lack of information and constant failure of those who have tried are the greatest hurdles to horticultural farming, farmers more than ever need to regain and maintain their faith. They need to be shown that the future of our country and beyond its borders heavily relies on their input into the supply chain of agriculture. They need a reason to believe again.
What more pragmatic way to achieve this than by setting up a model dedicated to not only offering first-hand practical education on horticultural farming but also demonstrating the benefits we can reap as horticultural farmers?
Considering that most farmers in the industry are smallholder farmers with landholdings of less than 2 ha, I have started exactly there: small. As a strategy to identify with the majority of the farmers, I want to demonstrate that horticultural farming does not necessarily require large tracts of land but can be practiced by anyone with the correct combination of tools, key among them access to correct and structured information.
I have already acquired 2 ha of land on which I plan to plant tomatoes and ginger. These two crops are some of the main horticultural crops in Tanzania. The unique environmental benefits of farms in the Northern corridor, from the type of soil to water availability and the potential for expansion of horticultural production, make tomato and ginger farming a viable venture.
The crops will be grown in a protected greenhouse for temperature regulation and moisture conservation, with constant tending as is necessary to ensure constant yield all year through. Most traditional farmers rely on rain-fed agriculture which has proven to be cheaper in terms of energy requirement as compared to irrigated agriculture.
While relying on rain to water crops could prove cost effective, it is subtly and sadly so, an expensive double bind. In the absence of rain, one barely has the quantity and quality of yield needed, while in the rainy season the yield is too much, and that is the same for every other farmer, thus creating glut in the market resulting to huge losses.
To counter such problems, I plan on digging a borehole at the farm which will use a generator-powered motor to pump the water to the surface for irrigation all year through. Digging a borehole is seemingly quite expensive compared to relying on the rain but it is only expensive at the initial stages of installing (in our case digging) one as it is a one-time cost.
Once the model is up and running, I will move to the next phase of the project: inviting farmers of my village for seminars, trainings and workshops on good agricultural practices. Most of these trainings will be conducted on site for the practical bit with hope that the farmers will be inspired to emulate the best practices on their own farms.
A lot of research will go into the trainings to ensure that farmers have access to validated and practical information. I have no doubt that the agronomists I have on my team are qualified experts who will bring the model to its success. The success of the trainings is pegged on the success of the model, so we cannot afford to be slack.
Is my method at all justified? When I was registering for membership at TAHA, I had a lengthy discussion with the information specialist and operations manager. They cited the trend of farmers selling or converting their land to non-agricultural usage as a major problem thwarting growth of the horticulture sub-sector in Tanzania.
Their efforts to halt the trend have only had a small impact. The association agrees that it is high time farmers came together in a combined effort to encourage each other. I could choose to venture into horticultural farming on my own, employ the good agriculture practices I have collected, and use the wide network advantage I have to enrich myself without a care in the world about other farmers. But I choose to overcome self-serving desires and instead include every other farmer in the mix.
I am a philanthropist committed to giving out her time resources for the betterment of people’s lives. Horticultural farming done right can earn farmers thousands if not millions of shillings. I have the advantage of being one of the few empowered youths in my village with a vested interest in agriculture.
My leadership training and activities have exposed me to numerous opportunities to learn about good agricultural practices, besides giving me the advantage of access to a network of notable agricultural experts. Above all, I have a burden. A burden that makes me realize that to see any notable development in my community and country at large requires combined efforts.
The model will serve as a source of revenue for myself and a saving grace for the many farmers who will hopefully return back to agriculture and possibly lure non-farmers to agriculture.
To make this vision a reality, I am already tapping into the resources of information and knowledge at my disposal. One such resource is a farmer’s kit provided by the Balton Group that allows small-scale farmers access to affordable modern agricultural technologies, methods and inputs of the highest standard.
The kit comes with a farmer’s greenhouse, drip irrigation system, solid water tank, farmer’s sprayer, gold medal seeds, fertilizers, nursery set, agrochemicals, personal protective equipment and training on the usage of the kit, with a certificate awarded upon completion.
The kit will allow me to bridge the information gap because once a farmer buys the kit and pays an annual fee, which is considerably little, Balton provides its expert agronomists who visit the farmers on a monthly basis to provide consultancy in addition to exposing the farmers to new technologies, growing techniques, products and the markets available.
Balton group has also cracked the private public partnership, a strategy that will enable farmers to receive quality support.
As far as what I have already done to see the model become successful, as mentioned earlier, I have already acquired 2 ha of land at Nduruma on which the model will be based. I have also managed to collect a team of 2 agronomists, a promoter, a sales representative and a financial management all who will volunteer for a year, giving the project enough time to stabilize. I also acquired a generator that will pump the water to the surface once the borehole is dug.
Ventures like horticultural farming are feared and labeled as costly investments that keep small-scale farmers from taking the risk. The Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR) is giving the young people an opportunity to make agricultural breakthroughs by offering a chance at $5000 USD.
One may dismiss this amount as very little to make any significant contribution to agriculture, especially a start-up in horticulture. Thanks to technological advancement, the amount is enough to initiate significant and sustainable changes. Perhaps a budget breakdown of how I would use the $5000 USD will do a better job at convincing you.
The Balton farmer’s kit already includes a lot of ingredients one will need to set up a fully stocked horticultural farm. A kit goes for only $3000 USD so a huge chunk of the investment will go to securing the kit. $1000 USD will go to the digging of the borehole (the price is inclusive of the labor and machinery that will be employed in the task). The remaining $1000 USD will be used for the general running of the farm.
I plan on having two site employees who will manage the farm on a day-to-day basis, earning a salary of $200 USD each for a season (a year has 3 seasons). The two will be provided with shelter and food and the salary is paid from the sale of the farm yield.
As with every deliverable, there is a metric of success. Since this is farming, the most practical metric is how much yield is produced from the model after the first season. The 9*15 meter greenhouse can house 300 tomato plants. Each plant can produce minimum of 10 kilograms per season, where a kilogram sells at minimum of $0.5 USD during dry season and $1 USD during the wet season.
This means that yields per season range between $1500 USD to $300 USD for the minimum 3000 kg yield, which translates to a yearly income ranging between $4500 USD-$9000 USD. The net income after subtraction of the input cost will also go a long way to measure the success.
The amount of yield sold locally or exported will also serve the purpose of demonstrating the viability of the project. The number of trainings offered to farmers plus any expert advice offered to farmers on their own farms will also be used as a metric. This includes any number of farmers helped through my model to set up or improve their farms.
I should mention that the model is as practical as it can get. I have already shared my idea to farmers in my village and 3 farmers already expressed an interest to learn further from me. One farmer is actually willing to rent out a part of his farm that has remained idle for years now, to raise capital that will be used to start on horticultural farming.
I have been given a chance to attend training on developing youth hubs for empowerment given by ActionAid Denmark come March 29. This training will see the trainees go back to their countries to initiate development projects.
I undoubtedly believe that my efforts towards introducing good agricultural practices to the farmers in my village will spur immense development. The economic activities that will generate from informed farmers will not only help raise the country’s GDP but also close the gap between the demand for healthy nutrition and employment by increasing ventures in horticultural farming.
The future of farming has always been in our hands and the model will serve to remind us of the power we possess.
Blogpost and picture submitted by Carolyn Kandusi (Tanzania) – ntilavika[at]gmail.com
The content, structure and grammar is at the discretion of the author only.
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