Year-End Investor Report

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To investors and stakeholders in the Tabora Project,

As their term drew to a close in late June and early July, Hailey and Eliza put their heads together and prepared a year-end investor report.

Tabora Project Year-End Investor Report, July 2014

Accountability and transparency are priorities for Project Coordinators and for 2Seeds Network as an organization, as is showcasing success. Take a good look at this document because it’s full of great info and insight.

Please do not hesitate to reach out to Hailey and Eliza, or us, with any questions thoughts.

From the 2Seeds Ground Team

Ana, Colleen, & Marc

To Dry or to Sell? How to Move Forward and Finishing Strong

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As mentioned in our previous blog post, we have made great strides as a group of businesswomen. We have expanded the business and increased profits. Not a day passes when they do not ask when and where we have our next orders, as well as where and how we can find more! Our partners have begun assuming more roles and responsibilities in the business. They are beginning to not only show, but shine in natural business roles. Through many discussions and the small group rotations, we can see who is beginning to fill which specific roles. This ties in nicely with our yearlong (January 2014-January 2015) goal of having each partner control a specific role in the business such that all operational roles are fulfilled. We believe this will increase both partner confidence and ownership in the project.

Over the last few weeks, we have been able to begin decreasing our presence in the kitchen. We hope, that by October, our partners will be running the business on their own, so that next year’s project coordinators will be able to focus on food security. These past nine months we have strongly regretted that we were not able to make more progress with solar drying. When the idea was brought up, we could not have been more excited. We have lots of sun in Tabora and fruits and vegetables are readily accessible in nearby markets. What more could we need right? What we quickly realized is that it is not quite that easy. How do you cut the fruit? How do you know when it’s done? Why do bananas always turn a grayish, blacky, brown color? How do you prepare vegetables? Why do you need to “blanch” vegetables before? How do you even do that? What happens if it’s humid outside? What do you do for storage after you finally have dried something?

As the questions continued to role in we began to realize what we were faced with. A mathematical scientific art form that required much more research than we initially expected. After long hours of staring at computer screens, reading through books, and numerous trial runs with our partners, we have cobbled together most of the answeres we had been searching for. Now we can finally say that we have the answers and information we need, it is the vegetable season, and we have the experts to support and fill in any gaps. All said and done, we now have all of the ingredients we need to make some serious progress with individual partner food storage, but what we lack is the time.

With May upon us, we find ourselves with just over two months left in Tabora, 68 days to be exact. Now don’t get us wrong, we could easily select a design for individual home dryers and begin construction, but what state would they be in come July? Would our partners understand how to use them? Also, what state would the business be in? If we split our remaining days so 34 total are dedicated to the business and 34 total to solar drying, how can we tell if either will be strong enough to stand during the intermission months before the new project coordinators arrive? Is 34 days enough to make our partners feel truly confident in their roles? Would they then be able to completely assume those roles in time to achieve our yearlong goals? 34 days may prove a good start for solar drying. Sure, we may be able to get eight individual machines built, but would there be time enough to know how to use the machines we had built? Time enough to facilitate the trainings needed?

We approached this problem from both sides. For nine months, our partners have been testing out solar drying with our support. They understand the general process. They have seen individual dryers and think they are a great idea. They are excited to bring those ideas to life in Tabora. The motivation and enthusiasm is here as our partners have become more invested. We too, have become invested after all of the hours of researching and connecting with experts. After all of our successes and hardships together, we are finally in a position to see this through and get some big results. Nine months of preparing and false starts, and now we finally find ourselves at the starting line and ready to go.

On the other hand, we are gearing up to cross the finish line with the business. We have gone through nine months of tremendous learning and growth with our partners. They are more prepared and confident than ever to assume control over all business operations. We have short, three month, quarterly goals that have slowly been addressing this shift of responsibilities. Every partner has been exposed to every role and they began showing natural strengths and weaknesses, which we will begin to build on more specifically. As a group, we are in a spot where, with one more final push, partners could easily assume those leadership roles.

We can either start one race or finish another, but we are afraid that if we try to split our remaining time, both will suffer. The business would not be at its best point and the solar drying would be cobbled together. Next year’s project coordinators would arrive in Tabora and be pulled in two different directions.

Our strategy for moving forward with this last quarter revolves around this last idea. We want to set up next year’s project coordinators the best we can to ensure their success. We have tried the best we could to put ourselves in their shoes. As new Project Coordinators, we arrive in a new place with an incomplete and uncomfortable grasp on the language. The partners, who we do not really know just yet, are in an “ok” place with this business that we do not yet know how to run. It is clear that they still depend on us to arrange orders, purchase supplies, keep records, and distribute individual profits. How can we possibly do all of that when we don’t know where the Kimaro Shop in Korogwe is let alone how to get products there? At the same time, our partners would be asking when we could start solar drying with these new machines they just got and how they would store that food for later. How in the world would we be able to answer that having never dried anything except laundry?

Of course this may not be the actual case. Maybe next year’s project coordinators will be business experts that specialize in solar drying and nutrition. Based on our experience upon arrival last August, even that expertise and knowledge would not make the process painless, nor is it realistic to say that solar drying business knowledge is easily transferable across cultures and countries. Would this potential success be worth the potential failure?

So, rather than creasing a sticky situation for next year’s project coordinators, we have decided to focus on finishing up strong with the business. In doing so, we will have to reduce our time spent solar drying; however, less does not meant that we will stop completely. These last few months, we will finalize and organize all background research and information needed for solar drying. This includes the compilation of all research into a comprehensive “how to” handbook, with specifics to Tabora. We will also be recording the daily food intake of a control group of four partners to better access the food and nutritional needs of our partners and their families.
Additionally, we will research potential designs for home dryers complete with a detailed construction plan and itemized budget for each selected design so our partners can make an informed choice as to which machine they would be most interested in when the time comes.

Next year’s project coordinators will be able to review all of this information, so all people involved will be as prepared as they can be to move forward. With more direct and comprehensive support over the next couple of months, our partners will more easily assume business roles to remove that responsibility from the future project
coordinators.

This was not an easy decision to come to. As previously mentioned, we have finally reached a place where we can actually take action, but what we realized is that sometimes not taking action is a harder and better thing to do than taking it. We are invested in this process with our partners and in many ways, we are just as excited as they are to see how this all turns out. At the end of the day, we remembered that this is not our project; it is our partners and we are just one step in a much longer process. We know that by moving forward and focusing on the business, we are setting our partners up for greater success down the road.

Solar Drying Business Experts Specialized in Nutrition

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For the past nine months, (time flies!) we have seen incredible changes to our small business in Tabora. Profits have increased over 400% since November. Our partners have assumed more responsibility and are more invested. Our products have improved in both quality and quantity. All those month ago, we started with just one product, chips, and now…we have five! We are selling regularly in Korogwe and Dar es Saalam. Each of our partners has completed the Business Curriculum and we are all currently in the process of writing a business plan together. The business has the potential to both increase and stabilize our partners’ incomes.

Income security, however, is not the only objective on our plate in the Tabora Project. As a group, we have made great strides to increase profits and build up the business, but we have not been able to focus on food security. Back in October, we broke the Tabora project down into three main objectives: income security, food security, and human capital development. Under each objective, we have certain initiatives and activities that we have been chipping away at as the year progressed. For example, food security, we broke down into two initiatives, food storage and nutrition education. Going a little further, we have broken both of those down into small activities, like solar drying and nutrition trainings. We have yet to see any substantial progress in this area with our partners.

In October, when our solar dryer was delivered everyone was excited and could see numerous possibilities! This machine would mean our partners could store more food for the hunger season; however, that time is now upon us and the solar dryer sites mostly unused. The few occasions it has been used have turned out mainly sub-par products. This is the result of both internal weaknesses in our group, and the external threats that are out of our control. An example of the latter is the early rains we experienced to varying degrees in February and March. These early storms have made solar drying all but impossible. This external issue however, is out of our control as we are not Mother Nature, but we have developed a plan to mitigate this threat. A plan, that will allow future project coordinators to know all of the information, i.e. weather patterns, fruit and vegetable seasons, etc., that they will need to make the most of the sun on days when they do have it. What we are currently still faced with at this point is our own internal lack of solar drying knowledge and expertise.

Our partners have limited experience with traditional sun drying methods and we have absolutely no experience how to actually use a solar drying machine. Through hours of researched we came to respect solar dehydration as both a science and an art form; one that we don’t know how to teach or instruct to our partners. When this became clear in December, we began trying to connect with experts who would be able to train all of us in the Tabora Project in how to solar dry.

A second activity that we have been actively pursuing for some time now that we have yet to tackle is nutrition education. Initially, we held off on this, because at the time we did not want it to distract from the work we had stared with the business. That changed when we installed the solar dryers and began talking about food security more often. We realized, that in order to get all of our partners on the same page with food storage and security, we had to start at the “why?”. Why do we want to focus on storing food? Why these specific fruits or vegetables? Nutrition, like solar drying, is not something we are experts in. Maybe we took a class or two in college, or we remember the food pyramid and how to eat a balanced diet from grade school, but that information would not necessarily translate or be relevant here in Tanzania. We do know for a fact that there are trained experts here in Tanzania who have both more general and local nutrition knowledge, but who also hold more local authority.

For some months, we have been focused on contacting these kinds of experts. Through our network, we have met people in Dar es Saalam, Zanzibar, and across Tanzania who all had varying degrees of information. It wasn’t until early this month that we were finally able to connect with Mwananisha Mfinanga, our local nutrition expert based in Korogwe. We know she has worked closely with Ros and Rachel, the first class of Tabora project coordinators, back in 2011, and again last year with Jamie and Ashley, to some extent. We knew she has a wide source of nutrition education and we had been trying to set up a date to meet with her for some time. When we eventually did meet with her, we realized why it had been so difficult…she is the only Bibi Lishe (nutrition expert) in the whole Korogwe district! While preparing for this meeting we thought she might have a connection to someone who knew more about solar drying and by the end of this day we would have a nutrition training set up and we would be on a new path for solar drying.

On April 4th, when we walked into her office it became very clear how passionate she is about nutrition, but also post-harvest storage. As it turns out, she is specialized in solar drying as a method of post harvest food storage and she has even conducted trainings on the process of how to dry fruits and vegetables and its bigger connection to nutrition! When we expressed our interest to her and informed her of the new direction of the Tabora project, we could actually see the excitement light up on her face.

We had a successful meeting and were not only able to plan for an introductory nutrition training after Easter, but also how we could also move forward with solar drying. As we talked at some length about a potential solar drying training, it became clear that Bibi Lishe is truly connected with the Tabora Project and the network as a whole. She believes it is more important for our partners to understand the process of solar drying, why it is important, and how they can dry with local materials. Rather than having materials sent up from the city, Bibi Lishe, believes it is more important for people to know how to build solar dryers out of kinyeji (local materials). This way, our partners can pass this information to their families and friends in the larger community.

Although Tabora is technically outside of her area, she is looking forward to working with us for free. She will not be compensated for facilitating a training, but she is still excited to be a part of our network, because of the possible opportunity to share information and ideas. Looking back at the past several months I can honestly say that it would have been easier if we had been experts in nutrition or solar drying, or even in business! Had we come into this year with that knowledge we most likely would not be facing a hunger season without a cache of stored foods. We probably would have seen greater, more efficient success. However, the way we approach our work within 2Seeds is with humility and partnership. We do not have all of the answers and neither do our partners, but together, we can find the people who do. The people who have not only the local knowledge, but also the local authority, that we as outsiders, can never hope to possess. Mwananisha Mfinanga, Bibi Lishe, is a part of our wider 2Seeds Network. We believe here, that every person who joins our network has something to teach all of the others. In Tabora, we are all looking forward to seeing this in action. We cannot wait to learn more about nutrition and solar drying with our partners. And we will be sure to keep you all updated as the process continues.

Updates from March

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Upendo Dinner (2nd)

While it is great that the business has been growing so quickly and the numbers look and sound amazing on paper, we have been challenged with poor group dynamics since our arrival in August. We have had a continuous concern over the lack of group “upendo” or love within the group. There have been tense moments during some workdays or trainings. One-on-one conversations have led us to the realization that our partners do not fully trust nor depend on each other. We came into this feeling that 2Seeds and all of its partners would be like another family to us. We depend on our partners to help us and support us when we need it, and we do the same for them. What is missing now is that same link between all of our partners.

We had been brainstorming ideas with some of our fellow Project Coordinators for how to increase group dynamics and build that needed trust. Our friends in Bungu had been doing a series of teambuilding and discussion activities for the past three months and had some suggestions for how to create the safe space necessary for partners to open up. And our friend Avery, in Magoma, suggested doing something together outside of work to build a different kind of out-of-the-workplace friendships. We took all of the suggestions into consideration and decided to begin a monthly Upendo dinner with our partners. We would take care of the cooking and preparing, and our partners just had to show up with open minds. We wanted it to be a time where we wouldn’t talk about chips or markets, but we could joke and laugh together.

When March 2nd rolled in, we found ourselves up to our elbows in lentils and rice which had just finished cooking with all of our partners slowly trickling in. The lentils were a recipe Eliza learned in Kenya and the rice was a gift from Mama Asha (She knew we lacked the proper rice making skills). When our partners and some of their children had all showed up, we dished out our dinner and hoped for the best. Giving a group of cooks a traditional Kenyan meal cooked by two Americans who didn’t even know how to make fried rice 8 months ago, was slightly nerve racking. Our fears were completely unfounded as they all loved the food and we had a great time talking and joking. The second half of our dinner was reserved for a teambuilding game in which we said something we liked about the person sitting next to us. It was a great start to introducing activities that foster friendship and unity. Everyone left feeling full and happy!

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Lots of Peanuts, increased orders (3-7th)

After distributing profits, we all realized how larger orders required more work hours, but they resulted in larger profits. It meant more time in the kitchen trying to find the hours to squeeze another cooking session in between cooking lunch for their families, going to the farm in the evening, and running their own individual businesses. The week of March 3rd we saw a slightly unusual cooking schedule. We began the week with a small order of candied peanuts and popcorn to sell in 4 shops in Korogwe. It was nothing too far from the standard and we knew we could easily finish the order in one day without a hassle.

The following day Hailey and one of our partners Mama Mudi delivered all of the products and recorded the sales. A few hours after they returned to Tabora, Hailey received a call from one of our buyers saying that they had sold ALL of the bags we had delivered and they wanted 40 more that same day! We explained to him that we could not cook again that same day, but we could schedule with our partners a time to cook again the following day. As a group our partners decided to cook the next day, Wednesday the 5th. It was a small order and we all knew it would take next to no time. Hailey was able to bring in bags that same day thinking that would be the end of it. She happened to pass by one of our other buyers who asked where she was going. When she excitedly told them that one of our other buyers had sold all of the bags in a few hours and had requested more, they excitedly told her that they needed more as well! So when Hailey returned to Tabora, we met once again with our partners to decide on another day to cook. They third cooking session of the week went smoothly and the products were delivered without a problem.

At the end of the week, our partners were all excited for the increased demand for our products and they knew orders like this could significantly impact our group profits and revenues. It is not an ideal work schedule, but it really showed us how flexible and fast thinking our partners are and how invested they are in this work.

International Women’s Day (8th)

Just one week later, on March 8th, we saw ourselves building off of this upendo dinner on International Women’s Day. We described what this day meant and how everyone all around the world would be celebrating women. So together, we used this day to come together as a group and munch on some snacks while reviewing the business terms and trainings we had been through together. We hosted the review session in which we went through the key concepts with all of our partners to see what they remembered and how they could help each other.

We saw that many of our partners knew the concepts, but they don’t have confidence and conviction in their answers. In smaller conversations, they know the terms and the basic principles, but they believe that we are waiting for a very specific answer. We made a concerted effort to ask individuals questions and guide them toward answers to ensure they fully understand the concept and are not simply regurgitating what we had said earlier.

Our partners are all incredibly smart women who have all grasped difficult business concepts. They may not have studied economics or even have been to secondary school, but they are strong and smart business women. They faced great challenge of people saying they can’t start a business because they are women, because they don’t have the education, because they should be doing other work. But our partners have started a successful business. They have showed great strength and courage to undertake this work in a culture that may not be as receptive as they would like. They have inspired us and can serve as an inspiration to women all over the world.

Hosted Christine from VSO Tanzania (13th)

As you may remember from a previous blog post, we connected with a number of people when Eliza went to the farmers market in Dar es Saalam. One of those groups we connected with was UWAMWIMA, a farmers association based in Zanzibar. Christine, a VSO Tanzania Volunteer working with UWAMWIMA , recently reached out to us to ask about our solar drying machine. On March 13th,she was able to visit Tabora to sit down and talk with us about our project and share stories of their successes and hardships.

After a short meeting at our house we brought Christine over to our kitchen where our partners were waiting with tea and chapatti (a flour based tortilla like breakfast food). All of our partners introduced themselves and were interested to learn about Christine’s work in Zanzibar. She was able to see first hand what our solar dryer looked like and talk with our partners about how we use it and what we might do differently moving forward.

Christine inspired us to do more planning. She was traveling around looking at different solar dryers here in Tanzania. She was gathering up resources and planning thoroughly to find the best design for her partners in Zanzibar. We both really appreciated her method and thought it could be very beneficial for the Tabora project to do more planning for our solar dryer and in future drying investments. This has significantly shaped our strategy for our remaining time in Tanzania. We want to research with experts and plan with our partners so that next year and all future project coordinators will have a strong base and foundational knowledge to build upon. They can then fully take advantage of fruit and vegetable seasons and availability. We believe this will prove invaluable to the storage of specific dried fruits and vegetables for hunger seasons.

PBS NewsHour (18th)

Some of our biggest news this past month as been the publication of a news article about the Tabora project and the 2Seeds Network as a whole on the PBS NewsHour website. When we found out someone had requested to interview us for an article on social entrepreneurship, we were shocked. It came as a complete surprise and would be the first interview for a major news station we had ever done. We wanted the article to reflect the work that 2Seeds as a whole is accomplishing by using specific examples from our project. With the exception of a couple nervous “umms,” everything went off without a hitch and we could not have been more excited to read the finished piece which can be read on the PBS NewsHour website.

Banana Bread Scones (22nd)

We made a decision this quarter to begin introducing our third product line: nutritious products. A majority of this third product line will be dried fruits and vegetables, but as we are still learning how to use our solar dryer we wanted to look at other potential nutritious products. We narrowed it down to four potentials: fruit bread, jams, granola, or nutrition flour. On March 22nd, we did a trial run for fruit bread. As you may have guessed, baking bread without an oven is difficult to say the least. We set up a time to meet with our partners where we would show them how we make banana bread and they would teach us their version of “scones”. It was not a mandatory meeting, nor did it count as a workday, but we hoped that our partners would be interested to learn how to cook something new. A handful of partners showed up, others had prior obligations, and we got to work. We began by preparing the dough for scones and the finagled recipe for banana bread. After constructing an oven like structure using multiple pots and corn husks as coal, we set to work baking the banana bread and the scones. It was not a perfect process, but we did learn a lot from it. We all think that there is a way we can combine our version of banana bread and their version of scones to make Banana Bread Scones. We are going to continue to peruse this in April.

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Dar order/Farmers Market/ Korogwe (24th-26th)

The week of March 24th rolled in and we were exhausted, both mentally and physically. The rains that we had been so excited to welcome with open arms had slowed down significantly and the heat and returned. We were feeling pressured to utilize every sunny day to solar dry something, so we could then sell it; we had been quickly flying through the remaining business curriculum trainings; and we had seen increasing orders from our buyers in Korogwe. All good problems to have, but exhausting to keep up with.

In one week (from the 23rd to the 29th) we cooked three separate times to fill four separate orders. We began the week with two orders standard from Korogwe…45 bags of regular, salted potato chips, and 45 bags of spicy potato chips. We normally divide these orders into two separate work days as it is beyond our capacity to cook 80 bags of chips in one day. We finished cooking 40 bags as smoothly and as quickly as we could have expected given its size. We had planned to cook again on Wednesday to fill the remaining 40 bags when two short phone calls changed everything. We received a second order from John Bosman, in Dar, as well as an order for the farmers market in Dar that weekend. Neither were huge orders, Bosman wanted a total of 30 bags of chips and 20 bags of popcorn, and we had decided to send 11 bags of each product to the farmers market, but it did required an additional work day.

Our partners, thinking on their feet, decided it would be best to cook all of our Dar orders on Wednesday and then cook the remaining for Korogwe on Thursday. By cooking on for Dar on Wednesday we had enough days to easily get them to Dar before the market on Saturday. Tuesday night we prepared the best we could for a midmorning cooking session, expecting this to be a monstrous couple of days of nonstop cooking. We woke early Wednesday morning to the sounds of rain slapping against our roof. We thought for sure mother nature had won this round, there was no way we could cook in the rain, the kitchen would be flooding with water. Around 10am the rain subsided and a kid who lives down near the kitchen knocked on our door and said our group members wanted the keys to the kitchen so they could start working! We had planned on meeting at 11, but they knew the earlier we started the faster we would finish and they were determined to work despite the rain. The day was just as long and wearisome as we expected. Cooking each of our products in one day is not something we do often, but it all turned out well and we did actually finish earlier than expected and in good spirits! We had also bought more potatoes to cook the next day and prepared all of the bags.

Thursday rolled in cloudy and humid and despite how tired we all felt, all of our partners in Tabora showed up at 2pm on the dot prepared to work. They divided tasks so we would finish cooking early and there was never a moment during the session when someone wasn’t working. The efficiency was there and as we finished the fourth and final order, we realized that our slogan “Wanawake Wanaweza!” (women can do it!) had never been more true.  Our partners worked very hard through those four days, and the week wasn’t even over yet!

Project Site Meeting (28th-29th)

After the long hours spent in the kitchen from March 24th to the 27th it would be completely understandable if our partners took the next few days to rest, but that could not have been more opposite than what actually happened. From March 28th-29th, we hosted the project coordinators from three other project sites, Lacey and Rachel from Kijungumoto, Avery and Kendra from Magoma, and Ross and Luca from Lutindi. Twice a year each project site hosts three other sites to provide a deeper understanding to what our projects are like. It gives every one a chance to see first hand what our lives in the project sites are like and to share ideas.

Our partners decided to cook lunch for our guests on Friday the 28th so we could all sit together and they could meet some of the other project coordinators. We planned a team building activity in which all of our guests and partners were divided into three groups and given a set of supplies. Armed with four short pieces of bamboo, a scrap of fabric, a pen, a piece of paper, a rubber band, and a single strip of tape, all of the teams had to create a structure that would protect a water balloon dropped from an extreme height. Given 10 minutes to work together, each team constructed incredible structures and prepared for launch. It was only then that we realized we had nowhere exceptionally high to drop them from, short of climbing on the roof. Instead, we found a spot on our partner’s front porch that led down hill and with the support of a low stool, we had a height large enough to launch. Each team lasted through the first round, but the second round was the danger zone. In the second round, we had our partners throw the structures up higher in the air to see what that might do, and as it turned out, that did a lot. Two out of the three rounds lost their balloons and team Simba (lion) was crowned victorious.

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The weekend was not all games, however it was all fun. As a group of project coordinators no meeting would be complete without two things, 1) a discussion about the past and future of our projects and 2) a rousing get-to-know-you-with-only-slightly-awkward-questions-game to build our relationships as a group and to see who could come up with the craziest questions. Our discussion focused around how looking back at our first 100 days, what would we do differently or what would we advise future Project Coordinators to think about. And how would that have affected the current status of our projects. As a group we came to a very solid consensus: in those first 100 days we would tell future project coordinators to trust their gut. Those first few months are when our minds have not yet become accustomed to normalities and realities of life in our project sites. It is when we can provide different opinions because we are outsiders, but we must recognize for that very same reason we must be thoughtful about how we implement ideas. By engaging and working with our partners we can learn if some of these outside ideas are good or possible.

Mango Fruit Leather

Throughout the month of March we focused our solar drying efforts on learning the process of drying bananas. Initially, we had planned on focusing only on drying bananas. Eliza had read that the process was a little more complicated because bananas have a tendency to start “browning” as soon as their skin is broken. As it turns out, with the right equipment and conditions, it will not be too difficult, which allowed us to investigate another idea: Fruit leather. By shredding mangoes with a cheese grater to make a mango puree, we could then spread it thinly on one of the trays in our solar dryer. When the water was drawn out all that was left was a leathery fruit peel. The first two attempts were thwarted by untimely rains that caused the mango puree to rot before all of the water had been removed. On our third attempt however, we had three days of uninterrupted, blistering hot sun. The result was exactly as we expected! Our partners loved the snack and think it would be a huge hit in both Dar and Korogwe, but only if we added a little more sugar.

Should we find a way to produce fruit leather on a larger scale, we believe it would have a huge market as it is not a widely known product in Tanzania, but mangoes are. It would be a unique way to explore our third, nutritious, product line.

Even Higher Profits!

The latest news coming out of Tabora is regarding the profits for the month of March. We came into the month on a high from the huge profits of February. Our partners were excited to keep the momentum, but we were slightly worried about how we could possibly increase profits given the amount of work we had been doing in February. Throughout the course of the month those fears got pushed aside as daily activities took precedent in our minds. By the end of March we realized we had completed eight workdays with our partners and three business trainings.

On April 2nd, three of our partners came by our house to begin the process of calculating the group revenue, total profits, percentage of that profit to put into savings, and then the individual partners’ profit. As they calculated the production costs for each product for each cooking session we realized that our costs had gone up over 80,000tsh in comparison to February. This was not unexpected as we had more cooking sessions in March than the month before, but still higher input costs can, in some situations, lead to lower revenues and lower profits. As they moved on to calculate the revenue from each sale of each product we realized that our revenue had gone up as well! Over 150,000tsh! Our partners then calculated that the total group profit for the month of March was over 130,000 tsh higher than what we had seen in February! Each workday was just over 3,000tsh again, but since there was eight work days rather than six, our partners who attended all workdays saw another all time high as profits reached over 24,000tsh.

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We have found some strong markets with our partners and we can see how that is reflected in this huge increase in profits. We are expecting as we reach production capacity, these increases will level off and as a group our partners will need to think about project and market expansion. Our group of eight women will grow and as they grow they will search for both new markets and products.

Updates from February

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Posted by Eliza

February

Early Rains! (5th)

February brought in a new wave of weather that no one was expecting…rain! From what we had been told by past project coordinators and all of our neighbors and partners, it was not going to rain until the end of March. The first few days of February showed us that this month was set to be much the same as January and December, hot and dry. But come February 5th, the skies opened up, as did our arms and our buckets. We spent hours on our porch dancing with the kids who live near our house and catching the rain falling off our roof in large buckets. We only took shelter inside when we started shivering from the cold water.

With these early rains, all of our community members suddenly disappeared to their farms to prepare the land and while the rain may have been unexpected, we were amazed to see how fast people responded to take full advantage of the good fortune. Now we have seen a drastic change in the landscape around Tabora. Farms have come to life with tall stalks of Maize appearing overnight!

Filling the first Bosman Order (6th + 12th)

As we mentioned in a previous blog post, we were fortunate enough to connect with John Bosman, a man who runs a large Butcher shop in Dar es Saalam. After Eliza returned to Tabora, we set to work to fill the largest order we had ever received: 30 bags of regular chips, 30 bags of spicy chips, 40 bags of peanuts, and 20 bags of popcorn, all at significantly higher prices than we could possibly sell at in Korogwe. With this one sale we received a total revenue of 266,000 tsh.

From February 3rd to the 13th, our partners faced a monstrous work schedule and the urgent pressure that comes when trying to coordination a sale of this size in Dar es Saalam (some 5 hours away). Our partners showed up each day excited and ready to go as they saw how this order could significantly impact their individual profits and our business as a whole.

Since this sale in Dar, our partners have jumped at every potential opportunity to expand our market reach and continue to look for new places and people to sell to. We have realized that we are quickly reaching production capacity, but somehow our partners continue to find time to squeeze in another cooking session here, or business training there.

Training with Wageni (17th)

With these new sales in Dar and larger orders coming from our buyers in Korogwe we began to really see partners grasping the concepts we had been learning in the business curriculum trainings. In the weeks leading up to February 17th and the days after filling this big order, our partners began asking us about our plan for our group savings fund. They understood that with these larger orders and increased revenues, we had been slowly increasing our group savings fund.

On February 17th we finished our 6th training in the Business Curriculum, which focused on personal and group savings. Through this training, our partners learned not only about the importance of having a savings “piggy bank” but also the distinction between a group savings and personal savings. We began talking about having each partner begin their own personal savings account which we will then come up with individualized plans for how that money will be used and replenished. We are proud to say that now five out of our eight partners have begun individual savings accounts and we are in the process of creating personalized plans.

During this training we had the good fortune to host several wageni (guests) James Meeks, 2Seeds Founder, Amy Baker, 2Seeds Executive Director, as well as Bridget Meigs, Farm Manager at Stonehill College (Hailey’s alma mater) and a potential project mentor. Our guests had arrived in Tabora to visit each of the project sites and see the progress of our work on the ground. The experience was amazing for our partners to see how people across the world are so fully invested in our project and work together.

Bungu Network Site Meeting (22nd)

On February 22nd we traveled to one of the mountain project sites, Bungu, for the 2Seeds Network Site visit, an annual meeting that brings together partners of every 2Seeds project. The Bungu Project Coordinators, Cam and Mitch, hosted over 50 people and showed all of the Project Coordinators and project partners what they had been working on in Bungu. In the Tabora project, we do not focus on planting crops, but that did not stop Mama Salome from asking how to create an organic pesticide. She knew that it was still something she could use on her own personal farm. Nor did it stop Mama Hassani from asking how to grow broccoli. The Network Site Meeting in Bungu created a space for the partners in Bungu to show off their hard work over the last 5 months and it gave all of our partners the chance to collaborate and share ideas.

Solar Drying Mangoes + Pineapples

Our goal for the month of February was to understand the process of drying mangoes and pineapples. We wanted to focus specifically on these fruits because it was their season. We knew that after February we would be hard pressed to find any pineapples in the market and mangoes of good size and quality would be scarce. After a couple of test runs we saw, in comparison with dried fruit we had seen in Dar es Saalam, we knew how to dry mangoes. Our products looked and tasted great and could sell in some markets for as much as 5,000tsh for a small bag!

Pineapples however proved to be more difficult. With such high water content, it became clear that they required more time in our solar dryer. The only problem standing in our way was the early rains! We had not been prepared to receive rains so early in February, but moving forward we realized that we could continue to go through the process steps to learn how to cut the fruits but recognizing the results would not be great. This had been frustrating for all of us however, because with no clear results we cannot know if our process is correct. Since February, we have been able to take advantage of hot, dry days as they come, but we have been feeling more frustrations and pressure from our partners to be experts and have the answers to solar drying.

Individual Profits hit a high!

Some of our biggest news to come out of February was that our individual profits hit an all time high of 18,300 tsh per group member. Check out our partners’ reactions here!

This increase marks a 400% profit increase since we started our profit calculation process in November. In just four months, our partners saw how much their hard work and our dedication to finding new markets could change the business. The five partners who received 18,300tsh all showed up to work all six workdays of the month. Each workday had a value of over 3,000tsh. Our partner who was away from Tabora for a few days had missed two workdays and received 10,600tsh. Still a remarkable improvement from what we had seen in months prior.

We know all this talk of “tsh” is a little confusing, but there is no clear way to describe what our partners can do with 18,300tsh. We can convert it into US dollars, but even then, money works in different ways here. To give you some perspective, when we sat down with our Country Director and Senior Project Coordinator we all decided that if each partner was receiving a consistent monthly revenue of 5,000 tsh in one year’s time (by January 2015) that would be an impressive start. Our partners and community could do a lot for themselves and their families with 5,000tsh, even though it translates to just over $3. So we created short term one year goals that reflected this conversation. Through incremental steps we planned to slowly increase individual profits so that by the end of next January they would be receiving 5,000tsh. We now found ourselves having completely surpassed that goal with 11 months left to go. We are excited to see what the next months bring, but we are also a little nervous when we think about how we need to sustain the progress and make it a consistent reality.

What’s Hoppin in Dar…

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I want to start this blog post with a disclaimer that apologizes, as it has been far too long since our last post, for which we are sorry. Know that this post has been mulling over in my head for some time, but the words to express it were nowhere to be found.

In my recent time spent abroad in Kenya and now Tanzania the divide between the people never ceases to amaze me. In Kenya, I went to the United States International University, a school for children of privileged families. Politicians, both Kenyan and International, sent their children there to fulfill the requirement of a college education before they would take the jobs pre-arranged for them regardless of their individual strengths, weaknesses, or abilities. I viewed the semester long program as a social experiment of sorts. Students who attended USIU would never set foot in the public hospital I worked in, nor would they brave the public transportation into Town, or venture into the slums, which sprawl across various parts of the city. Since then I am still amazed at the experience of seeing some of the harshest examples of poverty along side some of the most extravagant displays of personal wealth I have even seen.

This situation is not specific to Kenya alone or even developing countries in general. It can be seen in major cities across the world and begs to question: what creates this divide? And how can it be overcome? One answer, which is certainly not the end-all solution, is opportunities. The lack of opportunities afforded to all people is certainly one part of the problem. At the same time, we can also say that in order to bridge this divide we must then increase and create more and better opportunities. The next obvious question then is how to create those opportunities or where do they come from? To which again, we have no exhaustive answer, but would like to offer one opinion. The opportunities about which we are speaking, can in large part come from human connection. By reaching out to people who have different experiences and lives we can intermingle our thoughts, beliefs, and ideas to bring about new thoughts, beliefs, and ideas. These interactions on the surface are “human connections,” but they are more so the connection of human lives and all that we as individuals have gone through and learned. We change and grow as we continuously interact with others, they teach us even as we, maybe unknowingly teach them.

In mid January, I had the good luck to be able to attend the Oyster Bay Farmers Market in Dar es Saalam with our fellow Project Coordinators Monique and Sophie, who are based in the city. Hailey and I had been sending Tabora products to the Farmers Market for a few months at this point and we were weary. We had been talking about the irony of running a food processing business to focus on nutrition in Tabora, but then sending all of our best products to a city 8 hours away in order sell at higher prices to the larger expatriate community. Additionally, we had seen inconsistent sales at the market, which meant losses for our partners in Tabora. This visit served as a way for us to fully understand what the ultimate goal of our participation in the market is, why it is helpful to both the Tabora project and the 2Seeds Network as a whole.

After a long bus ride during which I constantly feared that the crops I was bringing down from some of the other project sites had some how flown out of the underside storage compartment of the bus, I quickly learned that Dar is not quite so different from Nairobi. There is a clear divide between different sections in the city, where you can see foreigners, expatriates, and wealthier Tanzanians lived very different lives than not only the other, less wealthier Tanzanians in the city, but also the people we have come to know and love like family in Tabora.

When we woke on the morning of the Farmers Market, I was feeling quite anxious of what we were sure to encounter that day. As we loaded up the car, I found my mind wandering to advice that someone had given me when I was preparing to leave for Dar, which was “don’t expect everyone to know Swahili.” My concern was that for the last 5 months, Swahili had become a part of my daily routine. I was used to selling our products in Korogwe in Swahili to Tanzanians. I had absolutely no idea how to sell our products to anyone other than the people in Korogwe or in any other language other than Swahili. As we drove across the bridge onto the peninsula I began to see this as my opportunity to act as a bridge and connect the people in Dar with our small project and with the incredible people we live with in Tabora. This was my chance to tie our products to specific stories and pictures; to introduce the most important element of 2Seeds, the human element, our partners. I could connect the peanuts and popcorn to specific events and make them more real to the people in Dar. And in turn, I would take what I saw and who I met in Dar back to Tabora in memories, stories, and lessons to be shared with those who have not had that opportunity or may not even know opportunities like those exist.

As the day progressed, my brain slowly switched back over to English and into marketing mode. Sophie and I had what she described as one of the most successful farmers market since she had started bringing 2Seeds products late last year. When we saw that Tabora products weren’t getting enough attention, or drawing as many eyes as the stack of egg trays from the Kwakiliga Project balanced at the end of the table, we decided to take a more aggressive, proactive approach to marketing. No, we did not force people to buy anything, but we did open up a bag of each product and proceed to walk around the entire market, asking both sellers and buyers to taste a little and tell us what they thought. This opened up the lines of communication and gave us the chance to describe the project and our partners to people, after which they were hooked. As more and more people stopped by the 2Seeds table, we not only sold more products, but we also connected people, many complete strangers, with the network.

I met a woman who had moved to Tanzania years ago and fell in love, both with the country and with a Tanzanian who now work together selling homemade cupcakes and mini pies! I met a group of young Tanzanian men who were selling strawberries and blackberries from Morogoro, a city a few hours outside of Dar! I met a man who had run a chip factory in Italy for several years and told me exactly what kind of potato we needed to buy to get the brightest chips. I met a young couple who were doing work in agricultural development who had just arrived in Dar a few days earlier. I talked with a whole range of people and whether they were young, old, Tanzanian, foreign, each of them taught me something. In some cases, it pertained directly to our project, but in others it was helpful or new advice on Tanzania, development, or life itself.

They were all lessons I could, and did, take back and share with our group and neighbors, but likewise, I shared the lessons we have learned in Tabora with each person I interacted with. I shared with them lessons of learning Swahili, or how important it is to store water for drier seasons, or what it is like to watch someone’s son learning how to speak for the first time. I showed them our hardships and our successes, and to some degree enlightened them to what my life for the past 5 months has been and what my partners’ lives are like every day. Trying in some ways to bridge that gap between what people see and know and what they don’t see and don’t know, whether because of ignorance or just the lack of opportunity.

While I met many people and made many new friends during the market there are two women who have kept in touch since. The first woman, Lydia, is a Tanzanian woman who works with a group called “Food Processing Enterprises,” which sells a variety of processed foods and spices including dried fruits and vegetables! With some serendipitous luck, their table was located next to ours and I was able to chat with her throughout the course of the day. She told me that they were based just outside of Dar and she would be more than happy to talk to me about the process of solar drying, mentioning that she does trainings on the process of drying and storing food as well as how to build your own solar machine. As Hailey and I are hoping to build a second, larger machine with our partners in the near-ish future this seemed too good to be true! It was by a complete chance that I was able to go to this specific farmers market and that they happened to be stationed next to us! We are currently still in contact and exploring the ways in which we can work together despite the distance in between.

The second is a woman named Christine. She works with a farmers association in Zanzibar called “UWAMWIMA.” They are currently looking at different designs for solar dryers in Tanzania, in hopes of constructing their own as an addition to the work they are currently doing. She has reached out the 2Seeds ground staff and we are planning a time in the near future for her to visit Tabora to meet our partners and see our dryer.

Throughout the course of the weekend, I kept telling Sophie and Monique that “things happen in Dar.” The amount of people I met by sheer coincidence and some good luck continued to amaze me even outside of the farmers market. Sophie connected us with man named John Bosman, who owns a butcher shop in the wealthier neighborhood on the peninsula in Dar. He is interested in selling eggs produced by one of the other 2Seeds projects, The Kwakiliga Project, but he also decided to place a test order for Tabora products! Even though it was only a trial run to see how our products would sell, it was still one of our biggest orders to date with the highest sales prices we’ve seen. The result was that our partners’ individual profits for the last month were more than double than the month before. With crossed fingers and some follow up on our part, we will be able to set up contract for consistent orders with this butcher shop.

I read once that human connection is both the most important and complex challenge we face in the world. In a time when one word answers are way too common, and whole relationships are built over text messages rather than in person, there is a lot to be said for the face-to-face connection whenever possible. If you think about your local farmer’s market, what draws you to it? Is it the promise of fresh, organic food? Or is it the chance to connect more directly to that source of fresh foods? Markets are more than just a place to buy brightly colored and natural foods. They are an opportunity for people of all different genders, races, social classes to connect around a shared interest. Markets give us an opportunity to create a sense of community and mutual learning between consumers and producers. We are able to use these farmer’s markets in Dar as opportunities to connect potential consumers with the values and stories of Tabora, and of 2Seeds as a whole.

Quarter 2 Investor Report

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To investors and stakeholders in the Tabora Project,

As Quarter 2 drew to a close at the end of January, Eliza and Hailey prepared a report outlining the Tabora Project’s activities, their monitoring and evaluation processes, their finances, plus the successes and challenges of their experience with the project and partners since August, 2013. In late June, near the end of Quarter 4, another report will be prepared.

Accountability and transparency are priorities for Project Coordinators and for 2Seeds Network as an organization. We are pleased to present the Q2 report to you here, on the project blog.

Tabora Project Q2 Investor Report

Please do not hesitate to reach out to Eliza and Hailey, or us, with any questions or concerns you may have.

From the 2Seeds Ground Team

Ana, Colleen, & Marc