September Update

I may as well just admit to myself that I struggle to do anything more than a monthly update. So, here is the monthly update:

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Another exciting month has passed for TPM. We have been overwhelmingly focused on growing the garden program. When we started the program back in April I told Mary and all of our other employees to be saving their earnings because I could only guarantee the project would continue through 2014. After that, I couldn’t make any promises about the future of the program. Over the past month that plan has changed, and we couldn’t be more excited.

You may remember from my last update (or maybe it was too long ago) that an organization called Better Lives visited our project. At the time they mentioned that they were very happy with the progress we had made. We were happy with that, because they are working on similar projects elsewhere in Tanzania as well as in the Philippines and Cambodia. The next week I met with Better Lives again and got even better news. A lot of good news actually.

First, Better Lives offered to support TPM by purchasing a small vehicle to help us transport materials and visit families efficiently. I hope to post a picture soon, but the vehicle is a motorcycle in the front and a truck bed in the back. They are great for the difficult mountain roads and very fuel efficient. A bag of compost weighs around 100kg. A full size garden requires between three and four bags of compost depending on soil quality. While we made a great caravan – me pushing a wheelbarrow, Mary and her sister carrying half bags on their heads, and Gilbert with a bag slung across his back – we are grateful not to have to repeat this trek too many more times – especially as the gardens we work with get farther away. And don’t forget we’re on a mountain.

We will also use this vehicle to make family visits. Currently it takes us about three hours to visit the four families we have planted gardens with. Three more family gardens should be completed around the end of the month, and then we’ll be doing a new garden every two weeks after that. The vehicle will make this task go a lot faster and will keep it manageable as the program expands.

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Finally, we are getting ready to open up a stand at the local market. From the stand we will sell the families’ vegetables as well as seedlings, pesticides, booster, and other garden products. All of this moving back and forth would be a huge task without a good vehicle.

So, that was the first piece of good news we received from Better Lives – a new vehicle. Pictures are coming soon. I plan to pick it up on Thursday.

The next piece of good news was even more exciting. Better Lives liked our project so much they offered to make it one of their supported projects. This means that, as long as Mary and the team keep up the good work, the garden program will continue indefinitely.

Excitement, relief, gratitude. It’s hard to put into words how amazing that was to learn.

Learning that Better Lives wants to support the gardening program (the garden program runs under the name “Lishe Bora” or “Better Food”) also means a bit of a change of concentration. Previously, we had been focused on coming up with ways to make the project financially sustainable by the end of 2014. While we still want it to become financially sustainable as soon as possible, we now have time to build a stronger foundation and experiment with various ways the program can add value to the community.

One way that Better Lives is interested in using the gardening program to add value is to incorporate a microcredit program into the gardening program. Much of this is still in the works, but I can try to offer a broad overview of the strategy. The idea would be that through the gardening program Better Lives would build relationships with the families – that will be a huge part of Mary’s job. She will see how people take care of their gardens and will be able to tell who is really responsible and willing to make sacrifices to improve their lives. After a family has proven their reliability through the garden, they will be eligible for small loans. The loans will start out small and grow larger as they are repaid.

An important aspect of the program is that the gardens should be generating small incomes for the families. That income can be used to repay the loans.

However, in order for the gardens to generate incomes, we will need to make sure the families are able to sell their vegetables. The process of finding a market for vegetables warrants its own separate post – one I hope to write soon. Already it has involved a trip to Arusha to meet with some experts, a trip to the local market where we will set up a small shop in the coming weeks, and visits with hotels and restaurants in Marangu to get an understanding of the value chain for small farmers and vegetables in Tanzania.

On top of all of this, we have been continuing on with the families we are working with. Soon, there will be a link on the Better Lives website with regular updates on each family. Below, you can see pictures of how all the families are progressing. So far we’re pleased with every one of them!Image

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Soon, we will be falling into our two week schedule where we put in a garden every two weeks. We hope to increase this pace to two gardens every three weeks after a few months.

Lots of updates to come and exciting news to share. It’s hard to believe I have just over two months until I go home. I hope to pick up the pace and get some updates up about the entrepreneurs we have worked with, our trials with our new water pump, our work finding markets for vegetables, and a number of other subjects.

Thanks as always for the support!

Babu Lyimo and His Goats

Babu Lyimo is a great man and I could tell stories about him for hours because he can usually tell stories to me for hours. He is probably the most compassionate farmer I’ve ever met and he reminds me how far removed we have gotten from our food in America. Babu Lyimo loves his animals and he loves them as individuals, not just collectively because of what they provide him. He seems to be particularly fond of his goats.

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He has one goat – Charlie – who was his very good friend. He says Charlie would follow him around all the time and knew how to come when called. One day Lyimo was doing some work and his phone was out of arm’s reach. Lyimo lost a leg a few years ago to diabetes so he can be slow to get things that are out of arm’s reach. As he was working his phone went off. Charlie went over to the phone and grabbed it with his mouth. Lyimo thought Charlie was going to eat his phone so he yelled and swung at Charlie to scare him off. It worked, but then, Lyimo says, he realized Charlie was just getting his phone for him because he knew that Lyimo only had one leg and would be slow to get up. He says Charlie is afraid of him now and he can never forgive himself for losing his friend.

He has also been holding on to a goat for me in exchange for a computer. Unfortunately it took me longer than expected to return to Mkyashi and in that time my goat grew considerably. The goat has caused him some serious problems including eating everything and getting too big for his cage. But Lyimo has really grown affectionate of the goat after so long. He calls the goat Sam and Sam loves when Lyimo pats him on his head. In fact, if Lyimo approaches the goat cage and neglects to give Sam a rub Sam will smash his head against the roof of the cage until he gets a pat. Lyimo says he is going to be very sad to see Sam go, but that Mama Lyimo says she can’t stand to look at it anymore and it keeps her up at night.

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The newest addition to Babu Lyimo’s goat family is “Blackie”, a one week old calf (?) that is all black with a tiny white spot on his back. Blackie likes to sit on Lyimo’s lap but his favorite game to is goat fighting. Goats have very hard heads and mail goats get small horns that they use to head butt each other. I don’t know much about it but it seems like some sort of male testosterone, mating, show-off thing. In any case, Blackie likes when you punch him in the head. He gets all excited and makes little “baww” noises and gets in a fighting position. His face is so ugly, it’s adorable.

Babu Lyimo and Blackie

Babu Lyimo and Blackie

Still, at the end of the day Lyimo sells each goat to be slaughtered for food. Each goat is a personal loss for him as much as a material gain. When he takes some of the meet for himself he knows the life-story of the food he is eating and appreciates much more robustly the gift of food.

Out of Poverty by Paul Polak – Overview

Out of Poverty by Paul Polak

Perhaps the most important lesson from “Out of Poverty” is that “people are poor because they don’t have money.” On the surface, this seems tautological. What Polak is arguing is that what many people identify as the causes of poverty – poor education, poor governance, poor health, poor access to resources – are all side effects of not having enough money. If poor people can find ways to make a little more money, they can use it to solve the aforementioned problems for themselves. Thus, poverty reduction programs should focus on helping poor people generate higher incomes.

Since the way out of poverty is through income generation, Polak offers three basic principles for the route out of poverty:

1. Most of the extremely poor people in the world earn their living now from one-acre farms.

2. They can earn much more money by finding ways to grow and sell high-value labor-intensive crops such as off-season fruits and vegetables.

3. To do that, they need access to very cheap small-farm irrigation, good seeds and fertilizer, and markets where they can sell their crops at a profit.

Polak urges us to think simple in creating solutions to poverty. After a life-time spent working with International Development Enterprises on small farm projects across the world, his input is invaluable. However, poor writing bogs down the important lessons in this book. The writing is repetitive and difficult to get through. In the end, reading a few well-written reviews and summaries is as valuable as reading the book in its entirety.