Fields of okra, tomatoes and peppers fringe the small village of Fuoni, just outside Zanzibar City. The vegetable plots represent three years of hard work for Umwamwema, a farmers’ association with over 200 members.
Five years ago, farmer Omari Abdullah faced many challenges. Poor roads, limited transport facilities and, most importantly, a lack of storage facilities, forced him to sell his vegetables for whatever price he was offered.
Zanzibar is a small island with just over a million people, the majority of whom are subsistence farmers. Tourism has become the major industry in the last 20 years. But farmers like Mr. Abdullah are enjoying few benefits from the estimated one million tourists who visit the island each year. Eighty per cent of the vegetables supplied to the hotel industry are not grown on the island, but in mainland Tanzania. .
Things have changed for the better for some farmers over the last few years. With help from an international NGO, Umwamwema has started working with agricultural experts. The experts have helped in many ways. For example, they suggested that farmers kill harmful soil-dwelling pests by putting infested soil in a clear plastic bag and leaving it in the sun for a week. Local farmer Mama Mariam adds, “It’s really good feeling connected; knowing there are specialists on hand, both for the more routine stuff, but also for when we have problems.”
In October 2009, the Tanzanian Agricultural Productivity Programme, or TAPP, started training the farmers. The training is helping new farmers like Yasmin Mahmoud. It’s also educating experienced farmers on responding to supply and demand, and on choosing to grow products with a strong market, such as mint and basil.
Farmers are learning how to prepare their land, stagger their plantings, and use water harvesting and drip irrigation to strengthen their resilience to unpredictable rainfall. TAPP provides improved seeds to the farmers for free. Omari Abdullah adds, “We’ve also introduced compost-making, rather than relying on commercial fertilizer, which isn’t always that good.”
In the past, poor electricity supplies prevented farmers from keeping their vegetables cool and from using pumps to irrigate their crops. But by digging a well, farmers are no longer dependent on electrical pumps, and can move water by hand. This, plus a simple drip irrigation pipe, has reduced the amount of labour necessary to grow vegetables and improve crop security.
All these measures have increased the Umwamwema farmers’ productivity. And the increased productivity is paying off in improved food security and higher incomes.