Arusha Project

Maji ya Chai
July 1, 2007, 7:35 am
Filed under: Abroad Program, Uncategorized

Thursday, we visited Tupendane in Maji ya Chai (water of tea, appropriately named because of its brownish color), the sister organization of CCF, which is Nikki’s volunteer placement. CCF, located in town, reaches out to street kids and orphans as well as children that are being mistreated in their homes. Children stay at CCF for an average of three months and are given room and board, education and counseling. The goal is to resolve conflicts in the home and allow these children to return or train them towards a job to be self-sustainable. If this doesn’t work, the children are moved to Tupendane, a more rural location, to live and study with colleagues.Here, at Tupendane, the grounds look like a small farm. As we stepped out of the car, we saw colorful birds jumping around in the grass, a very large bull in the center of the commune, and various brick and cement buildings with bright blue doors. After greetings with the headmaster and thoroughly signing the visitors book (every organization has a book that visitors must sign, I’m not sure why, but they regard it as very important), we headed out to their garden. Behind the living quarters sits a decently sized garden planted with everything from cabbage and carrots to onions and pumpkins. Adam, the Tupendane Center manager, first explained that the goal of the project is to teach themselves and others how to grow plants in a healthy manner for consumption and ultimately become an organic farm. He stressed that small farmers will often harvest their crops soon after using pesticides instead of waiting the required 1-2 weeks for the pesticides to neutralize and become less harmful. It’s a huge health problem, but the markets are full of produce grown this way.
We’d come to learn about the organization and help weed the garden and already a host of teen boys were working at one end of the land. Right away, Jenn (our resident farmer) noticed the mass amounts of weeds propagated throughout the cultivated areas. These weeds, which grow much more rapidly in the rainy season, not only use up water intended for the planted crops but also suck necessary nutrients from the soil. On our hands and knees, we joined the boys and all started pulling and by the end or the session, made a significant dent in their weed population.

weeding 2

It’s not a secret that Africa’s crops aren’t all that competitive on global markets, but in a lush area like Arusha, there doesn’t seem to be any reason why they shouldn’t be. Adam, a bottomless reservoir of local knowledge, seemed to think this is due to the lack of organization and consistency amongst farmers. In an area, there may be hundreds of small farmers growing similar crops (common crops include corn, collards, cabbage, potatoes, tomatoes, etc.) but they all use different varieties and plant their crops at different times. Individual farmers don’t coordinate to produce the same strain of a crop with the same harvesting time, so they aren’t able to export their crops in any sort of quantity, thus making their produce not very marketable outside of their small localities. Adam explained that this lack of organization makes the creation of an agricultural industry next to impossible.

That’s not the end to the challenges local farms face. Last week, Jenn educated us on the details of hybrid seeds. Although hybrid seeds may produce more ideal plants that contain the most desired qualities from 2 or 4 different strains, you cannot save the seeds from these plants as the seeds will revert back to one of the weaker parent strains, or may even be engineered by hybrid seed companies to be infertile. While creating an industry that feeds income into these seed companies, local farmers only become increasingly dependent on buying new seeds each year instead of being able to maintain their own cycle of regenerating seeds. In this area, many local people don’t know how to effectively and sustainibly cultivate their land as the majority of the population aren’t historically farming tribes and have tended more towards hunter/gatherer lifestyles. So now, common farming practices that some populations may do naturally such as crop rotation, composting and strategic planting to reduce pest populations and maintain balanced soil nutrients are foreign concepts and locals aren’t getting close to the maximum yield from their land.

Tupendane is making an impressive effort to tackle these issues while support a group of give or take 30 boys that would not otherwise have a home or be able to go school. We left Maji ya Chai with a big bag of rice to feed their members, many promises to return and Jenn’s vow to help them improve their agricultural practices.



1 Comment so far
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Business Management techniques can be used to make agriculture profitable on a sustainable basis. Farmers with small holdings should be organized on cooperative lines, and encouraged to keep animals to supplement their incomes. There is no harm in using disposable inputs for crop production. Hand weeding is not the best way to conserve soil moisture and nutrients because the days after germination consume such precious resources most rapidly. It appears that your noble efforts could contribute more through agronomy and rural development principles.

Comment by Dr S Banerji

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