Safe storage to help Kilimanjaro farmers
There are two cropping seasons on Kilimanjaro, marked by the rains. “Masika,” the long rains is the main crop growing season, which starts around mid- to late March and ends in June and July. Unlike the monsoon rains in Asia, the downpours do not continue for days at a time. They are almost daily, though not continuous; enough to douse the crops and keep them growing. “Vuli,” the short rains, the second cropping season, starts around mid-October and ends in January.
Up on the hills, the main food crops are bananas, beans and avocados. But on the plains, maize and sunflowers dominate.
On the plains, one too often sees fresh green seedlings at the start of the long rains turn scorched brown before they reach maturity. With them, farmers’ hopes at the start of the season turn into farmers’ despair as the rains fail them time and again.
The long rains have been exceptionally good this year. Southeastern plains of Kilimanjaro have been bountifully covered with maturing maize and sunflowers. The harvests have been good. But good harvests bring with them their own challenges because of market failure. It is a simple supply and demand affair. The ill effects of market failure are then compounded by unfortunate government policy.
Flow of reliable market information here is limited. Farmers and middlemen depend on hearsay which is often late in reaching their ears or could even be downright wrong.
Vodaphone, one of the leading mobile phone companies here, has recently introduced an app which provides up-to-date price information for main crops in major markets throughout the country. But few people know about it and even fewer make use of it.
While the market is thus clogged with market failure, a government decree banning export of food crops reinforces that clogging. There were times when crop movements even across regional borders within the country were banned. Thank goodness one doesn’t hear of that anymore.
The Kilimanjaro region which borders Kenya, is within a stone’s throw of a potential outlet for its produce, but the decree slammed shut the door. Farmers are left to weather the downward pressure on the price and loss of income.
From my hazy memories of the 1960s and 70s, I recall that the Korean government actively sought to do just the opposite. It kept rice prices high to boost the purchasing power of the farmers who made up the majority of the population then, and growing demand for good rising from that stimulated the economy. Not so here. There is lack of sensitivity to prices paid to farmers.
Farmers dry their grains in the sun before storing them in sacks in a corner of a room. About one third to almost half of these grains will eventually be lost to mold and mildew, insects and rats. “That’s life,” farmers say with a shrug.
But some Rotarians are starting to dream of a project which could turn this around and boost farm income.
Airtight aluminum silos that keep grains safe are now locally made. Perhaps they could be made accessible to the farmers. At the same time, farmers could be trained on how to dry their crops properly for safe storage. With safe storage of grains, any effort to increase farm productivity will leave a much greater impact. There is still much room for improvement. Average maize yield in Tanzania is only about a third of the average 6 tons per hectare in the U.S.!
January and July are the months when farmers need cash most for their children’s schooling. That happens to coincide with harvest time when the prices are at their lowest.
What if a local savings and credit cooperative society could be encouraged through a project to accept grains stored in silos as collateral for a loan? If farmers could keep their grains even just three months longer before they sell, they could realize a much higher price which will help pay off their loans and still leave some money to spare. Some talks are bubbling between Rotarians on Kilimanjaro and German Rotarians. The project idea is at an early stage, but the impact it could have for farmers is generating excitement.
“That’s life,” farmers say with a shrug.