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Enhancing vegetable productivity in Zanzibar

Farmers are improving the productivity and quality of their vegetables (© Paul Bordoni)
Farmers are improving the productivity and quality of their vegetables
© Paul Bordoni

Around the small village of Fuoni, just outside Zanzibar City, are fields of okra, tomatoes and peppers. These vegetable plots are not just the result of one season's farming. They also represent three years of hard work to create Umwamwema, a farmers' association with over 200 members. Together with CORDAID, VSO, USAID and TAPP (Tanzanian Agricultural Productivity Programme), these farmers have been working to increase their food security and income through enhanced productivity.

Zanzibar is a small island of just over a million inhabitants, the majority of whom are subsistence farmers. Tourism has become the major industry in the last 20 years, but Zanzibar farmers are scarcely benefitting from the estimated one million tourists that visit the island each year. Once famous for its spice plantations, much of Zanzibar is no longer cultivated and 80 per cent of the vegetables supplied to the hotel industry are not from the island: the majority come from Dar es Salaam, a hub for vegetables grown in the more fertile areas ofTanzania.

Five years ago, Omari Abdullah faced numerous challenges in accessing markets and selling his vegetables. Poor roads, limited transport facilities and most crucially, no storage facilities for his vegetables, forced him to sell whatever he had for whatever price he was offered. "If you're loading your valuable tomato crop onto the roof of a dala-dala (minibus) and on top of it is a bike, a sofa or some suitcases, your vegetables will be ruined," says Khadija Rajab, senior TAPP co-ordinator. "By the time you get to market you're competing with all the other farmers selling the same thing, and your tomatoes are squashed! You have to sell because there's nowhere to store your produce. It's a no-win situation for Zanzibar farmers."

Expert help

With input from VSO, Umwamwema was able to access international seed and soil experts such as Danny Coyne, working for the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Tanzania. Coyne has been able to help on many levels, including suggesting methods of soil cleansing to kill harmful nematodes by putting infested soil in a damp clear plastic bag and leaving it in the sun for a week while turning it regularly. In extreme cases Coyne takes root samples back to the lab for further examination, and then returns to the farmers with feedback and advice on how to tackle diseases, or combat nematodes. "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," explains farmer Mama Mariam.

Poor roads and limited transport facilities hinder farmers' attempts to access markets (© Paul Bordoni)
Poor roads and limited transport facilities hinder farmers' attempts to access markets
© Paul Bordoni

Then in October 2009, TAPP became involved, training farmers like Abdullah, from soil preparation and seed choice, to supply chains. The training, based at a centre in Fuoni, is very methodical and comprehensive, helping new farmers like Yasmin Mahmoud to start producing, and educating seasoned farmers about supply and demand, and growing products like mint and basil that have a strong market.

The use of wells, drip irrigation and water harvesting is still rare in Zanzibar farming. Similarly, pesticides, seeds and fertiliser tend to be of poor quality. All this has contributed to a very low vegetable yield, and meant that Zanzibar has continued at subsistence level, rather than diversifying to cater for the burgeoning tourist trade. Through the project, farmers are therefore provided with improved planting material. Says Rajab, "The farmers have to get different stock, as the seeds they are using are often infected or are of poor quality. It starts with good seeds. We can access these from Tanzania for them and give them for free." Farmers are also trained in how to prepare their land, to stagger their planting, to minimise risk of crop failure, and how to improve their resilience to unpredictable rainfall through water harvesting and drip irrigation. "We've also introduced compost making, rather than relying on commercial fertiliser, which isn't always that good," Omari Abdullah adds.

Not electricity dependent

In the past, poor electricity supplies have 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 instead can move water by hand. This, plus a simple drip irrigation pipe, has reduced the amount of labour necessary to grow vegetables and improved crop security.

A cold store means that farmers no longer have to sell all of their produce in one day (© Bernard Pollack)
A cold store means that farmers no longer have to sell all of their produce in one day
© Bernard Pollack

Another development has been a simple charcoal-based cooling system for vegetables. This is a box with walls packed with charcoal and dampened with water. The effect of wind on the charcoal reduces the temperature inside the box, making it possible to store vegetables, without any electricity. A second cold store, located next to the main market in Zanzibar City, means that farmers no longer have to sell all of their produce in one day. "With a place to keep their produce, farmers have got better leverage," Rajab explains. "They don't have to sell on the day they come to market."

So, with a combination of training, resources, dedicated personnel, cooling facilities, and a lot of patience, the days of tourists eating imported food should be limited. "It's vital that the local farmers produce high quality local vegetables," says Peter Chamzi, executive chef at the Five Star Serena Hotel in Zanzibar. "Food is the signature of the hotel and we recognise the immense importance of involving the community." Daniel Sembai, the manager agrees: "Hotels like this aren't sustainable unless we can provide a quality service using local people and local ingredients wherever possible. We can't survive unless we work with these farmers."

Written by: Thembi Mutch

Date published: May 2011


Have your say

Dear Mr Omari Abdullah Please email us at oconnors.nick@gmai... (posted by: nick O'Connor)

We have seen the extent of your nematode problem and would b... (posted by: Nick O'Connor)


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