Magazine article Earth Island Journal

Sustainable Agriculture in Tanzania. (Global Service Corps)

Magazine article Earth Island Journal

Sustainable Agriculture in Tanzania. (Global Service Corps)

Article excerpt

Tanzania is a long way from California -- geographically, culturally, climatically and agriculturally. This is impossible to forget as a Global Service Corps (GSC) volunteer in Tanzania. Especially when your morning commute suddenly is transformed from an apathetic twist of a car key to the determined twist of your shoulder as you struggle to hang on to the side of a packed daladala speeding up the Moshi-Nairobi Road.

GSC launched its Sustainable Agriculture Program in Arusha, Tanzania on September 24, 2001 with the assistance of Matthew Elkin and Joe Lambro, two dedicated volunteers from Lancaster, Penn. and San Francisco, respectively. Matthew and Joe have experienced first-hand how to launch an international grassroots development project. Every accomplishment thus far -- including reports written, compost piles built and relationships forged -- is a result of their personal hard work and effort.

Matthew and Joe spent the first few weeks learning about the needs of farmers in this region of northern Tanzania. It is critical that agricultural and environmental education efforts by groups such as GSC involve the input and participation of local farmers.

There is only one method of achieving this: Get out and go to where the farmers are! In Africa this requires an ability to navigate dusty bus stands at ridiculous hours of the morning (not to mention an ability to sleep soundly while sitting upright on a bus with chickens and goats as fellow passengers).

In their first week, GSC's volunteers traveled to the Mbulu region of northern Tanzania to explore local farming methods with the help of the Multi-Environmental Society of Tanzania, a local organization that provided us with expert assistance and support.

We traveled first to Karatu, a village overlooking the Rift Valley Agriculture here is rapidly becoming mechanized and chemical-intensive, as farmers seek to improve yields. The impacts of mechanized agriculture are slowly becoming apparent as the region's fertile soil erodes and washes away, choking small rivers downstream.

Further into the countryside, we reached the Mbulu District, heartland of the Iraqw people in the Mamaisara hills. In this remote and extremely fertile region, there is little talk of intensive agriculture. Here the community places a heavy reliance on subsistence farming to feed their families with only a small profit coming from produce sales.

Through interviews with farmers and women's groups, and by attending village committee meetings, we gained valuable insights into regional farming practices as well as the problems that face local farming communities. The main issue was a concern over the increased reliance on pesticides and chemical fertilizers and a disappointment that they don't work effectively over the long-term. Also, an increased reliance on imported hybrid seeds was making farming more expensive than many of our acquaintances were comfortable with.

As Tanzania's population continues to grow, so do the aspirations of its people for better standards of living. Although Tanzania is in the process of mechanizing its agricultural practices, much of the local population still relies on subsistence farming to feed their families.

The use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers has increased exponentially in Tanzania in the past decade as the pests develop resistance to the chemicals. Tanzania is slipping into a frightening cycle of adding chemicals on top of chemicals just to stay one step ahead of the damage the chemicals themselves are causing. …

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