A brighter future in Maasai Simanjiro, Tanzania

A brighter future in Maasai Simanjiro, Tanzania

in News
Michael Munah
Michael Munah
Agribusiness Advisor

I departed Arusha as the sun came up, driving along the rough road south from the city. As we left the urban sprawl behind the landscape changed from relatively green with many large trees to huge expanses of seemingly empty arid savannah, with many acacia trees. This land of mine hasn’t seen rain for some months now. The drive was long and dusty, but we finally arrived at Orksurnet town in Simanjiro district, home to 175,000 people, mainly Maasai. Transport in this large district remains unreliable for these communities, who are spread out and make a very basic living from cattle. Their lives have been made more difficult by the changing weather patterns with many cattle dying over recent years. Food insecurity has been and still is a big issue.

Through my role as VECO agribusiness advisor, I have contributed to providing far-reaching support to 3,000 farmers in this district, of which I am very proud. A number of different interventions gradually contribute towards more food security in the area. There are two aspects to this: crop management and harvesting on the one hand, and storage and market access on the other.

Growing maize and beans

Firstly we have encouraged farmers to start growing maize and beans, in addition to their traditional activity of raising cattle. This builds on previous experiences we had with introducing onion growing in the fields along Pangani river. VECO now supports training for the farmers on how to plant maize and beans using improved seed varieties as well as harvesting methods that minimize post harvest losses. This includes ensuring the harvest is adequately dry before storage to avoid the risk of aflatoxin contamination which has killed many people and livestock in recent years in East Africa. This has contributed towards increasing their harvest providing them with essential extra income for their families, enabling them to buy more livestock.

The second part of VECO’s contribution is assisting the communities to access better storage facilities. The ability for farmers to store their grain in a community space allows them greater bargaining power with traders because they can sell the grain collectively and in large quantities if required. This in turn results in their ability to secure higher prices for their produce. Emburace store is one of seven village aggregation stores in Simanjiro that have been renovated and equipped under the Food Trade project to meet the standards for grain aggregation and storage.

As part of this work VECO educated the farmers and warehouse owners on warehouse management, such as providing a clean and smooth floor, the use of tarpaulins, better ventilation, and provided high quality pallets on which to place the bags of beans and maize. Training included the proper use of storage pesticides so they understand how to use these chemicals and their impact on the food chain. Lastly VECO has supported the adoption of moisture metres, which help the farmers manage aflatoxin risks.

Better storage = more food security

These interventions are part of the Food Trade project on the development of structured grain systems in Eastern Africa. The aim of this project is to support small holder grain farmers to profitably market their surplus grain by participating in formal grain trading in local and regional markets.

There are two related aspects to the Tood Trade interventions: improving aggregation and reducing post harvest losses while improving quality, and enabling farmers to be linked to more profitable markets for grains.

A key reason for storing is to support better trade as it can reduce costs for buyers, reduce post harvest losses and increase prices for farmers. This was very important in this last year when prices for a bag of maize reduced from 150,000 Tsh to 55,000 Tsh. By enabling farmers to have access to good storage and better understanding of markets, VECO aims to support farmers increase the value of their maize and beans by 20%.

The Emburace group I visited had surplus crop to sell. I supported them in finding the best market for this surplus crop by taking them on trips to Dodoma, Tanga and Dar es salaam and linking them to input dealers and larger buyers such as Union Stores and Quality Food Products. VECO also piloted a farmer profiling system which will enable farmers to access weather and market information.

“The farmers who have diversified into farming from cattle management have become wealthier and more secure. Others in our community can see this clearly and are now interested in learning what we have learnt from VECO, because they can see the benefits of this”

Mr. Emmanuel Emburace Group leader

My approach has been to advise, train and coach based on a farmer’s commitment to trying new approaches. This strategy means that as an organization we ensure our funds are used carefully and wisely in order to invest in building people’s capacities to improve their livelihoods. I am very proud to be part of an organization that is clearly benefiting my fellow Tanzanians, who live in such difficult circumstances.

Lessons learned

  • The storage facility enables Maasai to manage their lives better as they now have a place to store crops (cash) for later use. Traditionally in a Maasai community there is sharing of resources so food crops often are consumed by the community if they are stored at the house. This leads to food shortages in the dry season.
  • The storage facility helps Maasai avoid post harvest losses with gains of up to 30%.
  • The storage should only be used for short term to avoid forced sales to traders at very low prices. Longer term storage is often not manageable as it requires financing and as a result has high risks.

(editor: Sue Jones)