Integrated farms feed the world

Posted by Christine, November 26, 2014

An article in the October 2014 National Geographic sings the praises of GMO technology, then concludes with the following:

Morogoro lies about a hundred miles west of Dar es Salaam, at the base of the Uluguru Mountains. A few days after my visit with Juma in Bagamoyo, Maro takes me into the mountains to visit three of the first certified organic farms in Tanzania. “Agricultural agents don’t come here,” she says as we lurch up a steep, rutted dirt road in a pickup. Greened by rains drifting in from the Indian Ocean, the slopes remain heavily forested. But increasingly they’ve been cleared for farming by the Luguru people.

Every quarter mile or so we pass women walking alone or in small groups, balancing baskets of cassavas, papayas, or bananas on their heads. It’s market day in Morogoro, 3,000 feet below us. Women here are more than porters. Among the Luguru, landownership in a family passes down the female line. “If a woman doesn’t like a man, out he goes!” Maro says.

She stops at a one-room brick house with partially plastered walls and a corrugated metal roof. Habija Kibwana, a tall woman in a short-sleeved white blouse and wraparound skirt, invites us and two neighbors to sit on her porch.

Unlike the farmers in Bagamoyo, Kibwana and her neighbors raise a variety of crops: Bananas, avocados, and passion fruit are in season now. Soon they’ll be planting carrots, spinach, and other leafy vegetables, all for local consumption. The mix provides a backup in case one crop fails; it also helps cut down on pests. The farmers here are learning to plant strategically, setting out rows of Tithonia diversifolia, a wild sunflower that whiteflies prefer, to draw the pests away from the cassavas. The use of compost instead of synthetic fertilizers has improved the soil so much that one of the farmers, Pius Paulini, has doubled his spinach production. Runoff from his fields no longer contaminates streams that supply Morogoro’s water.

Perhaps the most life-altering result of organic farming has been the liberation from debt. Even with government subsidies, it costs 500,000 Tanzanian shillings, more than $300, to buy enough fertilizer and pesticide to treat a single acre—a crippling expense in a country where the annual per capita income is less than $1,600. “Before, when we had to buy fertilizer, we had no money left over to send our children to school,” says Kibwana. Her oldest daughter has now finished high school.

And the farms are more productive too. “Most of the food in our markets is from small farmers,” says Maro. “They feed our nation.”

Recent Headlines