While Njombe is known for being a food basket for the wider country, the prevalence of stunting and malnutrition is unexpectedly high. Stunting affects 53.6% of all children under five years old in Njombe, which is the highest prevalence of stunting in Tanzania. A lack of food is however not the problem, but children often eat a starchy, monotonous diet that should be supplemented with high nutritious fruits and vegetables for a healthy growth.
To tackle this challenge, Rikolto and Inades-Formation are partnering with community health workers and community development officers in Iringa and Njombe as part of our AGRI-CONNECT project funded by the European Union. Overall across five regions of the Southern Highlands (Iringa, Njombe, Mbeya, Songwe and Katavi), our goal is to establish 30,000 home gardens to promote the cultivation of high-nutritious fruits and vegetables for home consumption.
One of the people who is on the forefront of spreading the word about the purpose and effectiveness of home gardens is Huruma Mgaya. In his garden, Huruma is showing others in his community how to set up a home garden and how to grow fruits and vegetables such as spinach, night shade, amaranth, onions and Chinese cabbage. Inspired by the success of Huruma’s home garden, the community is establishing more and more home gardens, leading to a more varied diet in the region.
The production standards for avocado seedlings adopted by Mashamba Tanzania will eliminate the phytophthora root rot disease, which is the most serious and common disease of avocados worldwide. Thus, natural organic avocado production will be attained.
Another building block for a sustainable future in Njombe is centred around setting up nursery businesses for avocado seedlings. Currently, there are not enough nurseries that can provide high-quality seedlings to meet the growing demand. The benefit of quality seedlings is that they grow into highly productive avocado trees with good avocados. Avocados are increasingly recognised as a viable export crop as well as a high-nutritious fruit to make local diets healthier and more nutritious for Tanzanian domestic consumers.
While setting up seedling nurseries increases the supply of quality seedlings, it is not sufficient on its own to tackle the challenge. Seeding growing entrepreneurs need both the necessary know-how for growing high-quality seedlings and a link to technologies and services such as organic fertilizer to create successful businesses. In Njombe, the eight ambassadors visited one of the demonstration nurseries for avocado seedlings. At this nursery, good practices are displayed whereby Agrónomos Sin Fronteras, Guavay Company, Mashamba, and government extension officers support smallholder farmers with trainings in the 126 villages in Njombe and Iringa where we are working.
To turn avocados into Njombe’s green gold, we are working closely together with the Njombe Regional Government and other avocado stakeholders to develop a strategy for the future of avocados in Njombe that will focus on naturally organic avocados and the inclusion of smallholder farmers. We see the huge potential of smallholder farmers to grow organic avocado are advocating for their interests and specific needs to be included in the avocado strategy. In an efficient food system, smallholder farmers would buy high-quality seedlings from nurseries and then sell their produce locally or deliver naturally organic avocados to buyers like Tanzanice for export or Olivado for oil processing.
On the export markets, competition with avocados from Latin America is tough, but Njombe’s avocados have a unique selling point: Sustainability. While in other places around the world avocados are criticized for being unsustainable because of the high amount of irrigation water they need, 95% of farmers in Njombe do not need to use additional irrigation water for growing avocados as almost all avocados in Njombe are rainfed. Companies such as Tanzanice have also been working to ensure that there is no deforestation to produce avocados and instead they make an effort to contribute to biodiversity conservation.
Supporting smallholder farmers to grow organic and rainfed avocados offers a viable business opportunity that can improve the livelihood of smallholders at large.
We are very honoured to have had fruitful discussions with the Ambassador of the European Union, Belgium, Denmark, Italy the Netherlands, Poland, Spain and Sweden during their visit to our home garden and avocado nursery in Njombe. We are looking forward to working together to improve food systems across Tanzania, while living up to the "Pamoja Tunaweza" (together we can) motto of #TeamEurope. Karibuni tena Njombe.