The day job.

Just in case you thought that all I do is go to the beach / get mugged, here are a few words about my day job.   I work for TOAM, the Tanzania Organic Agriculture Movement, an NGO which was set up in 2005 as the national umbrella body for organics. Now organics in the UK is a bit middle class guardian reader tofu burgers and muesli. Here it’s very different. Its not about ‘the good life’ or middle class mums (justifiably) feeling good about providing their families with a nutritious healthy diet and saving the world from eco-meltdown. And its not about flying food that you can grow in your garden half way round the world.

The point is that about two thirds of the world’s ‘bottom billion’ are small farmers, mostly subsistence farmers, who eat what they grow and rarely have enough food to get by on let alone surplus to sell. As such they are therefore pretty much excluded from the benefits of having cash in their pockets to pay for stuff like education, health, and the things we in the ‘developed’ world take for granted. This includes the inability to pay for agricultural inputs – like fertiliser, seeds, pesticides, herbicides – the upside of which is that very many small farmers are ‘by default’ practising sustainable / organic agricultural production methods. And bear in mind that around 80% of the 40 odd million Tanzanians are dependent upon agriculture for their livelihoods. So here in Tanzania, agriculture is the biggest sector of the economy, and as such presents the greatest opportunity for economic development  – with the potential to lift millions out of the poverty they currently experience.

<Tanzania is an LDC (a ‘least developed country’) and officially referred to as ‘desperately’ poor. Recent statistics indicate that over 58 percent of the population lives on less than $1 per day. More than 40 percent of the population lives in chronic food-deficit regions where irregular rainfall due to climate change causes recurring food shortages.  A quarter of households are female headed and women account for 70% of the agricultural workforce. With an estimated 1.4 million people already living with HIV/AIDS, the epidemic is exacerbating the country’s poverty, reducing agricultural productivity and the availability of farm labour.>

So what can we do about it?  Well – the main issues for the sector are that the farmers need support to increase their agricultural production, get organic certification, and then to get their produce to market (local and abroad), and generate some income.  TOAM is a membership organisation (89 members – NGOs, Farmers associations, Food processors, Exporters, Service providers), and works in a number of ways to improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers. This includes raising public / consumer awareness of the benefits of organics, capacity building trainers, extension staff and facilitators to go out and support the farmers, organizing training courses on organic agriculture, organic certification and value chain development, providing information, lobbying and advocacy, linking and networking, and developing a stronger voice nationally to support organic farming.

My role since I’ve been here has been largely confined to fundraising, writing concept notes / funding bids for international aid agencies, so that we will have the wherewithal to get out and support farmers and their families. I’ve led on about 5 bids so far (I’m losing track) in collaboration with colleagues, and we got the first response on Thursday. A Dutch NGO has agreed a contract with us for 240,000 euros (or 432 million Tz shillings!) to deliver 3 years work to support 8300 farmers to grow and sell organic ginger, sesame, and hibiscus. So hopefully I’ll be getting out of the office and seeing some more of this country and getting a bit closer to the business of international development. Fingers crossed for the other bids.

ps. apparently the next big cross cutting issue / focus of international development funding (HIV/AIDS was the last one) is going to be for climate change work (both for ‘mitigation’, i.e. carbon reduction,  and ‘adaptation’ i.e. living with it). The bad news is that while Africa has had precious little to do with creating the problem, it stands to be hardest hit by the effects – e.g. floods and drought, because of the dependence on agriculture (rather than say financial services or manufacturing), and because of the poor infrastructure (e.g. flood defences are virtually nil). The good news is that organic / sustainable farming is well positioned to respond to climate change issues like soil fertility and water conservation, and that there are 100,000 certified organic farmers already in Tanzania!

A smallholder farmer in Kilimanjaro

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One thought on “The day job.

  1. Fantastic blog. You put me to shame. I’m envious of your warm water exploits as I sit here in the approaching winter – I’ve just sent home for more warm clothes!

    You never said whether you actually got the car. And it’s good to hear that the project is going well and that you are able to contribute. Let’s hope that when you are finished they can take over, rather than just getting another DW.

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