VINESA farmers challenged to exploit their youth as their greatest asset
Through the VINESA project—Improving Income and Nutrition in Eastern and Southern Africa by Enhancing Vegetable-based Farming and Food Systems in Peri-urban Corridors—young farmers learn enhanced crop management practices, how to diversify production, and ways to improve value chain effectiveness to increase their market returns.
Since 2013, VINESA, funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), has equipped more than 400 vegetable growers in peri-urban settings in Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania with the skills to produce high yields of quality, safe vegetables, which they can sell at premium prices.
To complement the training received at VINESA’s Best Practice Hub in Arusha, Tanzania, a group of 25 farmers took a three-day educational trip on 1-3 February 2017 to Lushoto District, the vegetable basket for Dar-Es-Salaam’s urban markets. During the trip, the young farmers interacted with other growers, discussing how leaders of growers associations should look for high value urban vegetable markets for their members; how to manage farmers’ groups, handle conflict, and uphold group coherence; and how to share market orders, identify key partners, and nurture relationships for enduring business alliances.
The VINESA group visited Moses Mbecha, a popular farmer and vegetable trader in Lushoto District who produces several high value vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, parsley, lettuce, zucchini, red and white onions, leeks and beetroots on his small-scale farm for the Dar es Salaam market. Asked why he grows many crops, and at the same time doubles up as a trader, he said: “Having many crops helps me to spread the risks – if one crop fails or there is a drop in price, I then have another crop to turn to. Selling vegetables enables me to have firsthand information about what customers require.”
Penzel Paulo, a hard working smallholder vegetable grower in Lushoto Valley, won a greenhouse from a United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded project. The greenhouse enables him to grow crops such as tomatoes and colored sweet peppers all year-round. “The hard work of heating soil, raising seedlings in plastic trays and controlling pests and diseases can all come to nothing if a farmer does not have enough water to irrigate his crops on a daily basis,” he told the VINESA group. Lack of a secure source of clean and safe water has seen many greenhouses falling into disuse over the years.
VINESA farmers also visited Usambara LISHE TRUST, a registered association of farmers’ groups that started in 1996 with only 16 farmers. Today the association’s membership has risen to 200 farmers, and it has set up a collection center where more than 60 varieties of vegetables are received twice a week, graded, weighed, recorded and packaged ready for shipment to high value markets in Dar-Es-Salaam, 400 kilometers away. The association recently bought a truck with cooling facilities to ensure that fresh vegetables reach their destination in the very best condition.
At the end of the trip, the VINESA farmers received graduation certificates during a ceremony presided over by Mary Rimoy, Lushoto’s former District Horticultural Crops Officer (DAICO). She challenged the farmers to appreciate that if they worked together, their young age would be their “great treasure”.
“If your energy is properly harnessed, you can reap premium prices offered at supermarkets, tourist hotels and upper market green groceries by supplying required vegetable quality on a continuous basis,” she said. The trip marked the completion of training of 120 young farmers in Tanzania.
Story and photos: John Macharia