Project Update

Hey all! Just wanted to send an update on how the project is progressing! Check it out:

The Korogwe Project strives to shape a productive and profitable agricultural sector for smallholder farmers in Tanzania–one that celebrates local knowledge while introducing agricultural best practices, fosters innovative thought while encouraging robust decision-making, and ultimately allows smallholder farmers to meet their basic needs while constantly striving for higher productivity and profitability.
By bringing together and fostering a collaborative network of 2Seeds Tanzania partners, farmers, and agricultural stakeholders throughout the region, the Korogwe Project specifically focuses on the following areas:

  • Training and education: Creating and facilitating trainings for the entire 2Seeds Tanzania network (financial management, critical decision-making, farmer group management) as well as supporting specific 2Seeds village project training needs. The Korogwe Project not only focuses on engaging training sessions but also on effective follow-up activities that promote knowledge retention and idea adoption.
  • Human capital development: Developing a network of expert agricultural trainers and training facilitators throughout the Tanga region both for 2Seeds and non-2Seeds trainings. By introducing different pedagogical training methods, the Korogwe Project encourages interactive educational methods that demonstrate higher retention levels. As the network of trainers and facilitators develops, they will conduct series of waterfall-style trainings throughout the Korogwe region reaching a wider-audience and expanding the 2Seeds Tanzania presence.
  • Network formation: Fostering collaborative thought throughout the 2Seeds Tanzania network in order to strengthen ties between our 2Seeds projects and partners so that future collective market access is successful. Currently hosting a series of 2Seeds partner summits, the Korogwe Project works to support cross-village idea exchange and initiatives. Also the Korogwe Project is working with other organizations focused on smallholder farmer solutions to encourage knowledge exchange and to learn from various NGO experiences in East Africa.

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In addition, yesterday we brought all of our local partners together for our first summit of the year. It was a FANTASTIC day discussing the future of our work in the villages and the challenges that we are facing. I was thrilled to see how well our network is forming; partners are excited to come together to help and support one another.

Some exciting dates to keep in mind:

Feb 15 – Our first 2Seeds wide training introducing to all our existing and new local partners to the organization, our history, and specific . We will also lay out our vision for the network’s future!

Feb 16 – 2Seeds Summit for our new partners and teams. We will bring all of our new partners together to meet each other and begin the process of network formation.

God gave us time. People made watches to control time

16 September 2011

Being in Tanzania makes me miss Wyoming. Life in Wyoming and life in Korogwe have odd parallels – the interdependence of neighbors and community members, living according to the whim of the weather, and most importantly Wyoming-Tanzania time.

Tanzanian time is a very unique thing. Although there are 24 recognized hours in the day, there are only three “real” times in Korogwe: asabuhi (morning), manchana (afternoon), jioni (evening). If you are planning to meet up with someone, those are the options… no specific time, no specific plans. Because Tanzania runs on a very relaxed conception of time, people are frequently very late or never show up at all to appointments, yet spend hours chatting and drinking chai with friends and relations. Just another way that Tanzanians prioritize relationships ahead of other daily tasks.

I visited Mr. Njema again today with Ana, and another 2Seeds team. (He is the head of the district agricultural office for the Korogwe District.) We were laughing about the differences between Korogwe and the United States and about what we will miss from home – mostly fall colors, cold weather, and snow. Mr. Njema told us that he suspects that Americans just run, run, run everywhere and are always in a hurry. He laughed, shook his head, thought for a second, and then offered the following statement that embodies that way people view time in Tanzania compared to in the West.

“God gave us time. People made watches to control time.”

Elimu ni mali

14 September 2011

Education, no matter where you are in the world, is a hot topic. This week, I visited the District Education Officer, Mr. Shemzighwa to learn more about the education system throughout Korogwe District.

It’s the time of the year when Standard 4 and Standard 7 take their exams. In many years except 4 and 7 some amount of social promotion occurs – students move up a grade and continue with their education. In Standard 4, students must pass the test to continue to Standard 5, but the students can take the test as many times as they want. However in Standard 7, students have one chance. Either they pass or they don’t. If students pass the test, they can graduate on to secondary school. If they fail, a select few may be able to attend a trade school, but most students have no opportunity to continue pursuing an education.

The education office predicts this year that 37% of students will fail the test, most of whom will return to work full time with their parents on family farms.

I expected that since a large number of students return to family farms, that a significant portion of their education was farm-related. I was wrong. Although students spend a segment of their day studying “work,” instead of learning about agriculture and farming practices students learn about computers and new technology and ironing (clothes) out of a book. Students, who may never see a computer, study the schematics of a computer mouse more diligently than inter-cropping ag practices.

Permaculture

One of the most interesting days in Tanzania so far: Permaculture Training with 2Seeds partners, Babu and Tupa. Babu, meaning grandfather, and Tupa are almost perfect opposites. Old and young. From the dry valley and the productive and prosperous mountains. University trained agricultural specialist and a young man soon departing for higher education.

But every other Saturday for the past six months, they come together and travel to a tiny village called Kwakiliga to teach permaculture. Kwakiliga is located in the middle of the northeast Tanzanian plains. With no natural water source (river, lake), no well, and barely any rain fall, Kwakiliga is a hard place to live, and a harder place to be a farmer.

The training begins beside a small permaculture plot. The handful of 2Seeds workers, Babu and Tupa, cause quite a stir in the town, and folks wander toward us. Slowly the crowd grows and expands until twenty of so men and women are surrounding the area, ready to learn. At first folks are skeptical, and hesitant to add more work to their already work-laden lives. Then the long-term benefits begin to make sense, and farmers are interested, not convinced, in applying some concepts on their field.

Babu asks questions to make sure everyone understood the training. He asked one man how many days there were in a week. A long pause. Then the man answers five. He is quickly rescued by a friend who answers seven, and the training continues. It’s easy to see that there is very little formal education in Kwakiliga; there is no secondary school and most residents didn’t finish primary school. But there is a genuine desire for education and trainings to help farmers improve their fields and livelihood, which is hopefully where the Korogwe Project can help. After the training, one of the local farmer groups meet to discuss the concepts and how to apply them.

One of the many benefits of permaculture is the reliance on local natural resources to maintain and care for farm land. By covering fields with dry straw, the soil retains moisture and nutrients don’t degrade in the hot sun. Using recycled water and bucket planters, families can grow vegetable gardens. Utilized effectively, permaculture can be a great tool to enhance the productivity and ability of water-sparse regions.

Today the lesson was home-made fertilizer, cheaper, and possible better for the environment. Whoever thought international agricultural development was a sexy job certainly hasn’t demonstrated how to hand-mix manure and water to make fertilizer.

kupukusua – to pick maize kernels off a cob

3 September 2011

You know it’s the middle of the harvest season when you begin to see bags and bags of maize ears in front of every house. On my walk to the market today, I passed by a group of children taking turns beating bags of maize with a stick. It looked like great exercise and a bit of fun, so I asked if I could help… which they found hilarious. They would not let me help them beat the bags, but they took me to their house where the mamas and bibis (grandmothers) where de-kerneling the ears of maize.

Trying to convince them that I was able to de-kernel maize, I picked up a couple ears and started picking the kernels off the cob. It was as if a miracle occurred around us… “You are able,” they all murmured. “She can do it.” I stayed with the ladies for a couple hours, de-kerneling maize and undergoing random thumb checks to make sure I wasn’t getting blisters.

The little bit of work that I helped with was only one small portion of the bags and bags of maize they will de-kernel over the next couple weeks and months. Much of the maize that we de-kerneled will be used to feed their families throughout the next year, while only a little of it will go to the market to be sold for other goods like kitchen oil or school clothes.

One of the interesting questions to ask maize farmers is “will the maize be sold or eaten.” You can tell a lot about the families wealth and economic prospects by the question. Farmers who have a shamba (farm) for maize as well as a garden for vegetables typically can sell more of their maize, make more of a profit, eat a more nutritious diet, and more fully participate in the local economy. Farmers who almost solely rely on their maize crop for food are generally the poorer farmers less able to participate fully in the local markets. 2Seeds works with villages and farmers that represent both types of farmers. Hopefully the Korogwe Project can find a way to help farmers make their labor and fields more productive, to improve their life prospects.

Eid Mubarak!

1 September 2011

Today marked the end of Ramadan, and to celebrate the end of the fast a feast – a feast unlike any I’ve ever seen before. I was invited to celebrate with a very large, local Muslim family from Korogwe. Let me detail the day, since it was littered with hilarity.

Cooking preparations begin early in the morning as the Eid feast lasts all day. I had visited their family earlier in the week and said in my very broken Swahili that I enjoyed cooking and would love to help. Cooking started with chopping and peeling hundreds of carrots, onions, and potatoes… baskets and baskets full. After chopping about 20 onions (and these onions are super strong), my eyes were ready to fall out, so the ladies took pity on me (or just liked laughing at me) and sent me to peel potatoes with the kids. After the potatoes were finished, Amina (my 12-year old companion) and I ventured outside to help butcher the goat.

Most of the hard work was already done or being done by the teenage boys with fairly large knives. While they took turns chopping, Amina and I sat down to clean out the goat intestines. Can’t say that I’ve ever done that before, or that I’m inclined to do it again.

Around 8am, we all sat down to enjoy the first breakfast of goat stew, donut-like bread, and, of course, chai. Delicious, although the goat intestines were a little hard to get down at first. I was satisfied and ready for a peaceful day of celebrations and fun.

Around 9am the first wave a guests arrived from all over town and the region. Since I was a guest, and a rather noticeable one at that, I had to eat again. In fact every time a new guest entered the house, I was eating.

Sometime mid-morning, the ladies slid away from food prep to try to drum up a bit a clothing and perfume business. I quickly became a dress-up doll, stripped down before everyone and re-done in traditional Tanzanian dress and head wrap. Then the real sales pitch began. Rummaging through her bag of clothes and treasures for sale, my host pulled out a long silky dress. Unsuccessfully trying to explain the purpose of the dress, she pulled out the matching, quite scandalous undergarments to accompany the dress. Sorry to disappoint, but there was no sale….

By lunchtime, I was certainly a source of infinite amusement. Another meal was presented and we ate. Since I had told the mamas that I enjoyed spicy food, they offered me a small pili pili moto (hot green pepper). What better way to prove to everyone that I could handle a small pepper than by eating it. Being the fearless, invincible wonder-woman I am, I devoured it whole. Let me just tell you, not such a great idea. Within about 30 seconds I was breathing fire, couldn’t even eat bread my mouth was so scorched. Within 2 minutes I was fighting back tears, and my mouth was hanging open to try to let the heat escape all the while assuring everyone around me “no problem, it’s great, it’s great.” They were unconvinced and ran around trying to offer me ice and juice and pop – anything to throw on my smoldering mouth.

Four meals later, countless visits to local homes, and endless games with the kids, I (and my mouth) survived my first Eid, perhaps with a few fewer taste buds. It was a wonderful celebration with family, relations, friends, and food… lots of food.

Haba na Haba hujaza kibaba

28 August 2011

Habari?

Nzuri!

Shikamoo.

Marahaba.

Hujambo?

Sijambo!

There are dozens of greetings in Swahili. When I walk outside in the morning, every person I see offers at least three greetings before continuing on their way. When I stroll into town, every person I pass expects or offers multiple greetings. Before requesting any food or items at the market, greetings. Greetings, in Tanzania, are a way of life.

“How are you? Good. Is nothing wrong with you? Nothing. How is your home? Your work? Your parents? Siblings? Are you well? Healthy? Whole? Ok. Later then.”

Every morning I am swiftly ushered into a foreign language through a series of well-loved and oft-repeated statements of warmth, welcome and friendship. The greetings, I have mastered; real sentences are the hard part. The beginning of the day passes slowly, with me tripping through the language like a first-time skater on freshly cleaned ice. As the sun bakes the day, the sentences come faster (still not fast) and a couple words are added to my vocabulary. By the time mosquitoes are biting, I’m mentally exhausted, although a few phrases ahead of the day before.

There are lots of laughs. Absurdly simple sentences. Flipping through dictionaries. Charades in the streets. Some shrugged shoulders and a beautiful phrase: Haba na haba hujaza kibaba. Little by little fills the measure/ slow and steady wins the race.

But slowly the words are coming, and I am creating my own Swahili voice.

Home, sweet home!

24 August 2011

Move in! My house is lovely. I live in what is called the Habitat Mission neighborhood, given its proximity to the Habitat headquarters. The neighborhood is actually one of the few planned communities in Korogwe, designed by the Germans prior to WW1 when Tanzania was still a German colony. It is a nice and safe neighborhood.

I promised some folks a description of my house, so here it is. The house comes with electricity, an indoor bathroom but no running water, and about 100 kids that reside on my front porch. Many times a day, I hear “Kristina, Kristina, Hodi? (Are you home).” The kids are a blast and are helping me learn Swahili.

Luckily both of my neighbors have water spickets and can supply me with water. For Tsh 50 (or $0.03), I can purchase bucket of water, or during the rainy season I can catch rainwater. I outfitted my house with a bed (and bed net), a beautiful floor mat to sit on for meals, and a small single burner stove. Other than the major items I purchased baskets for clothes, buckets to wash, and necessary cooking items. Living simply, though colorfully with beautiful khanga curtains of all colors and patterns.

Most houses have mesh wire for windows instead of glass, and my house is no exception. The large open windows provide a great breeze throughout the house, but also permit sound waves. One of my neighbors enjoys MTV, and I mean really enjoys MTV… from 6am until midnight. I have never heard this much pop/rap music in my life. While writing this I have listened to “Baby, Baby, Baby” and “Shorty I Can Take You There,” which I am sure are not the actual song names, but my American pop music knowledge pales in comparison to the elementary school kids who live next door… YIKES!

Rounding out my humble abode are two fruit trees in my yard – one is a papaya tree (!!!!!) and the other is still unclassified, although the neighborhood kids like to come eat the fruit off the tree.

Hospitality in Tanzania is closer to godliness than cleanliness (though folks keep their homes incredibly clean). Whenever you pass by another’s home, you hear “karibu, karibu sana” which means welcome. Today I can finally offer a heart-felt “karibu” to you all.

Karibuni sana!

Africa, no good

18 August 2011

Story of the day. I went with a small group of people to lunch at one of our favorite mghawas (small restaurant). You can get a huge bowl of ugali, beans, and mchicha (greens) for Tsh 500 (or ~$0.30). Outside the mghawa, a man was selling coconuts. We thought coconut water sounded fantastic, so we bought a round. In order to access to the coconut water, the man cuts off the tops of coconuts with a rather large knife (think: machete-style). All of the coconuts were done, save one. As he started opening the last coconut, his 1&1/2 foot blade breaks in two and the end goes flying. Under his breath, he mumbles “Africa… no good.” We all laugh, thankful no one was hurt.

But the mindset of “Africa… no good” is a pervasive one that stretches beyond cheap broken knives. When I go to the market, people ask me what I am working on here, and how I can train them and teach them. The value of local knowledge, or the idea of learning from and with each other isn’t an esteemed value. And much of the development work previously done in the area enforces the idea that Westerners bring the money and the answers, and that Africa is no good, which couldn’t be further from the truth.

Like A Good Neighbor…

14 August 2011

Everyday as I make my way through Korogwe’s market, I inevitably run into a handful of street vendors selling donated clothing from the United States. Some days the market walkways look more like a donation highway than a market path. But the donated t-shirts available at clothing vendors are endless sources of amusement. I have seen the range of college t-shirts, vacation t-shirts, family reunion t-shirts and everything in between.

My favorite t-shirt by far was a State Farm “I’m there” t-shirt that a lady walking around town was wearing. (I worked for State Farm for a time and I possess the same t-shirt in Illinois.) I almost chocked from laughter when I saw it. Every day I see new amusing t-shirts… little pieces of home, interesting parts of American culture that make me smile and simultaneously shake my head. Who would have every thought that I would see an internal corporate “I’m there” State Farm t-shirt in Tanzania??!!??