Although there have been no studies comparing the nutritional content of the rack-dried products versus fresh ones, the Cheetah staff recognizes that nutritional loss is happening. “I’m aware of the nutrition dip, but this is designed to help with storage,” says Tara Menon, who heads up the project. “The idea is to eat fresh produce and dry simultaneously.” But, when asked, farmers did not yet seem aware of any nutritional difference between the two products, a state of affairs that underscores the ongoing challenge of bringing about change and communicating sometimes complex messages. These farmers include Sylvester Mugumba, who owns a farm and acts as a franchisee for the Solar Dryer Project, helping to facilitate its sales in the community for a commission. “[The] nutrition is the same,” he said. “They are the same material but storage is just different.
Another USAID-funded project in the southern highlands of Tanzania is teaching farmers to diversify crops largely because a mixture of foods can improve nutrition. It is helping them incorporate more varied and vitamin-rich vegetables into diets that often consist almost entirely of ugali (a maize-based dish) and beans. Still, a visit to one participant’s home indicated that her toilet had been set up directly adjacent to the garden, risking contamination of the crops. When the garden was planted, she says, the toilet was farther away but she moved it closer to the house because her family was afraid of being bitten by snakes when making their way to the toilet at night. To try to avoid getting sick, she said, the family always cooks the produce before eating it. The health issue there is not a problem with the program itself, but it underscores the continual balancing act farmers must make as the country moves toward its goals.
Clearly, the government faces vast challenges as it pushes to reach its agricultural targets, which is why many companies are trying to carve out small pieces of the puzzle to make their own objectives, trying to do the best they can with limited resources and realizing that behavior change can be difficult. The question now is will that be enough, especially as threats of climate change–stoked weather variance may grow ever greater.
One company trying to ease the transition into a more resilient farming future is One Acre Fund, an NGO in its second year working here. The organization works in multiple locations throughout sub-Saharan Africa, trying to double small farms’ yields within a year via microfinance loan packages that cover seeds, fertilizer and insurance on all of its wares. To enhance resilience to drought, it is trying to convince farmers to buy maize seeds that mature two to three months faster than standard seeds as well as invest in sorghum, millet and sunflower rather than focus almost exclusively on water-hungry maize. Many growers, however, remain hesitant to make the changes. Seeds that take longer to mature reportedly grow larger cobs, which makes them more appealing than the more drought-resistant varieties. Getting farmers to diversify away from traditional maize also poses a challenge. It is not only the 3,000 farmers that have enrolled with One Acre Fund in Iriniga Rural District this year who show reluctance. Throughout the country farmers “keep growing maize, which demands a lot of rain,” Chiza says.
Ten years ago in Iringa rain fell on and off from September through November and then a long rainy season began in December and continued through April. Now the intermittent rains are practically gone, leaving about six months of dry season, says David Hylden, Tanzania Country Director for the One Acre Fund. “Variability is going to become an issue for our program and, more importantly, for our farmers.”
Dina Fine Maron reported this story in Tanzania as a fellow with the International Reporting Project (IRP).