Safe stor­age to help Kil­i­man­jaro farm­ers

The Korea Times - - OPINION - By Young Hoy Kim Ki­maro The writer re­sides on the slopes of Mount Kil­i­man­jaro in Tan­za­nia. She worked for the World Bank for nearly 30 years and her email is youngki­

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.

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