Lessons learned from VINESA
Success from vegetable farming can come only if farmers know where the markets are, have sufficient skills to manage their crops well, and are willing to work with other players in the value chain such as traders, input suppliers, and transporters.
Transforming subsistence farmers into successful vegetable businessmen and women has been one of the objectives of the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR)-funded project “Improving Incomes and Nutrition in Eastern and Southern Africa by Enhancing Vegetable-based Farming and Food Systems in Peri-urban Corridors (VINESA).
To mark the end of VINESA in Tanzania, the World Vegetable Center, in conjunction with the Horticultural Research and Training Institute (HORTI), Tengeru organized a one-day closing workshop for farmers, project partners and stakeholders at WorldVeg Eastern and Southern Africa on 29 June 2017. Project partners in Ethiopia, Malawi and Mozambique also held a similar event to mark the official end of VINESA in their countries.
In Tanzania, this event provided a significant opportunity for workshop participants to review the success stories, lessons learned and challenges experienced since the inception of VINESA four years ago. In his welcome remarks, WorldVeg Regional Director Thomas Dubois said “VINESA is all about teaching youth how to make money” and emphasized the need to connect farmers to markets.
Project Manager John Macharia highlighted how farmers discovered that simple best practices such as keeping their crops free of weeds, using mulch, plating seedlings on raised beds, applying compost, and planting barrier crops can make all the difference between a good crop that leads to more profit, or a poor crop and miserable returns on their investment of labor and capital. Young farmers from five villages shared their successes and told how VINESA enabled them to engage their youthful energy, enthusiasm, and skills to produce and sell vegetables to domestic and export markets, grow seeds for private companies, and secure bank loans to buy certified seeds, fertilizers and oxen for plowing.
Workshop participants also visited the Best Practice Hub (BPH) at Madiira Farm. VINESA’s BPH approach has emerged as a new and unique way of doing research, training farmers, and sharing agricultural innovations. The hubs, which have been used to train 500 farmers since January 2014, have gained in popularity among partners and stakeholders in Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique, and Tanzania. The hubs provided a platform to bring research findings closer to farmers, helped farmers express their opinions during validation of technologies, and facilitated dialogue between farmers, researchers, extension service providers, vegetable traders, and inputs suppliers.
Small-scale farmers’ ability to engage in and benefit from high-value markets is curtailed by their lack of understanding about the quality of vegetables required, their limited capacity to produce vegetables that meet these standards on a continuous basis, and a failure to work with other players in a value chain. In this workshop, a new approach by WorldVeg and Catholic Relief Services (CRS) was unveiled to help scale out some of the best outcomes from the VINESA project—including the “Vegetable Business Hub for Youth.” In this new model, group governance, internal savings and lending, and farming as a business will be given top priority. This approach will help farmers to collectively produce and sell vegetables guided by what the markets demand.
“No doubt VINESA has generated valuable outcomes that need to be scaled out in other regions of Tanzania,” said Cornell Massawe, HORTI’s Officer-in-Charge, in his closing remarks. To do this, he called for active involvement of all stakeholders to make the new “Vegetable Business Hub for Youth” a sustainable model for scaling out good outcomes from VINESA. He also handed over a memorandum of understanding between HORTI and WorldVeg that will guide the use of the BPH at Madiira Farm for the next three years.
Story and photos: John Macharia