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I wrote an email last month to a group of my (Siobhan’s) donors. I updated them on our progress on the solar drying trial and error period. One of my donors sent back a list of questions. I responded to her personally, but I thought that her questions and my response might be of interest to all of you.

Here are the questions from my donor:

I am interested to hear more about the dried food. Where do the partners keep the food once it is ready for storage?  In what kind of containers?  Are there issues with protecting the food from nuisance animals?  I know that this life with cars, packaging, freezers, refrigerators and supermarkets is so far removed from what your partners experience.

And here was my response:

Thank you for your questions! I love getting responses and having a chance to explain the project further. I am so glad you are well.

Right now we are in our trial and error phase of solar drying which includes testing fruits and vegetables, but also includes storage methods. There are several challenges with storage. 1st, Tanzanian culture (at least what I have observed in Tabora) does not practice food storage of any kind. For the reasons you listed like pests, the hot weather will rot produce, and there is not usually extra food to go around. In Tabora many people have small shops where they sell dried goods like beans, flour, sugar, rice etc as well as vegetables. Onions, tomatoes, okra, and small eggplants are usually available all the time. Sometimes coconuts, carrots, green peppers, spicy peppers, cabbage, leafy greens, and bananas are available as well (once or twice a week depending on when the shop keepers visit outside markets to obtain goods). It is common practice to go out everyday and purchase produce or flour/rice for the one or two meals you will be preparing for your family. No one keeps leftovers (lack of storage options) and not many families can afford to buy several days of vegetables at a time.

For now, Emma and I are purchasing the fruits and vegetables to be dried. Since we are in a trial and error phase we want to be able to dry goods often, and if they go bad, or something goes wrong in the process, our partners will not be financially responsible for the loss.

We have been trying to talk about the importance of saving dried goods for the rainy season when produce will be unavailable most days. But it is hard to describe a pantry, or surplus, to a culture that has never practiced such a thing. But we are trying and hope that it will catch on!

We have been successfully drying leafy greens. When they are dried we seal them into plastic bags. This is the same storage we use for our chips, peanuts, and popcorn. So all the partners know how to seal the bags and we know that the plastic is available locally. This does not keep air out of the products, which could be a problem for mold. And the plastic is easy for mice to get into. We hope partners will store their bags into large plastic buckets with lids (everyone has these at their homes for water storage and storage of dried corn.)

We are researching glass jar storage methods as well. But getting a large number of glass jars for each partner might prove to be difficult!

Do you have any ideas of what we can use to store goods? Mice and weather proof options.

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As we celebrate the completion of all of our home solar dryers (!) we are beginning to think about our upcoming solar drying trial and error period. Our partners began experimenting with solar drying at the end of Hailey and Eliza’s time in Tabora in June 2014. Their experience will be helpful as we begin to guide them along through several different drying methods this month.

We are heading into this adventure together as we try to discover how to best dry fruits and vegetables as well as store them in the Tabora climate. Tabora is very hot and does not often receive rain. Luckily, the climate is not too humid, but we need to develop a storage method that allows our partners to store these dried good for at least one month at a time. We hope that by solar drying all together we will be able to learn from each other’s successes and failures and discover some successful methods for storage.

This upcoming week we have a nutritional and solar drying expert coming to Tabora to teach us all about drying fruits. We had this expert, Bibi Lishe (Grandmother Nutrition), come to Tabora in December and teach us about drying leafy greens. Her training was really fun and we got to practice on one solar dryer. This week we will be able to learn a new method for fruits as well as try drying fruits on nine different dryers!

We have been on the edge of this trial and error period for so long that it feels really satisfying to finally begin.

Wish us luck and lots and lots of sun as we start drying this week!

Tabora Project Mid-Year Investor Report

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To investors and stakeholders in the Tabora Project,

Since August, Emma, Siobhan, and Project Partners have been working ceaselessly across the network. Through capacity building and construction, learning and laughing, challenges and a lot of chai, your support has contributed to an invaluable experience for everyone involved.

While there is no sufficient way to show our gratitude, we’re still going to try.

First, Emma and Siobhan have prepared a Mid-Year Investor Report that encompasses progress and spending through the first half of their year on the projects. These reports provide some insight into the nature of our work, including highlights, challenges, and goals. They also give an update about the current state of finances and fundraising on the project, demonstrating just how far every dollar can go.

Tabora Project Mid-Year Investor Report, February 2015

Second, these words can only convey a small portion of our enthusiasm. As a way to show our sincerity, the wanamtandao (“network members”) got together to express our thanks to you directly! Watch the video below to get a glimpse of the upendo (“love”) we experience every day.

2S Day is a day of celebration every month from our friends in Tanzania, hoping to share a bit more of wonderful progress happening in our network. Please donate to 2Seeds Network to ensure our impact can continue to dig deeper.

Asanteni sana from the 2Seeds Ground Team,

Ana, Hailey, and Cam

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We have begun building individual home solar dryers in Tabora! We have now completed four solar dryers and will begin the fifth and sixth this week.

We have been working hard with Fundi David to learn all the steps of the building process. We have been keeping all the supplies in our little house (the wood is almost too long to fit!) and working three or four days a week to build all together. Partners have been coming to building sessions two at a time to maximize their ability to learn and help Fundi. Our partners have been excited to saw wood, hammer nails, chip holes, and paint the solar dryers.

We have been building at the house of one of our partners because she has lots of shade and space to spread out in her front yard. She lives right near the Tabora road and we get lots of traffic. Everyday we have community members and out of towners seeing our building process and asking our partners questions about the solar dryers. It has been really positive for community members to see eight women building machines that they will personally use for their families on a daily basis. Our partners take great pride in showing off their building skills and talking about solar drying. We have been touched to witness these moments and feel assured that we are moving in the right direction.

Two days ago, 2Seeds had a summit in which four partners from each project and all Project Coordinators came together to share project updates and activities. Our partners had the chance to see the breadth of the 2Seeds Network as well as brag about our cool new machines!

We have been busy with our building schedule, cooking large orders for Dar and Korogwe, and working on the Advanced Business Curriculum. This week the partners will not only cook and build, but we will be all learning about quality control during our 4th business curriculum lesson. We are very excited to have this lesson this week because last week we implemented new measuring methods in the kitchen to work on the quality and quantity of our products. This lesson could not be coming at a better time. We hope that by measuring all of our inputs and products after they cook, we will all have a better understanding of the relationship between the inputs we use and the profits we are making.

buildingdryer

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Our work in Tabora is constantly in flux. Our orders for chips and peanuts grow and shrink, our daily tasks get interrupted by some unforeseen complication, and our goals are always being adjusted to better suit our partners and the situation at hand. It has been really important for us to take set-backs gracefully and learn to work around them while still remaining as productive as possible. We are learning how to anticipate and plan for complications as well as how to deal with that one overlooked complication that inevitably pops up.

Two weeks ago we were ready to start building solar dryers in Tabora. This was a process that took several months. We went through the long planning stages of getting our prototype built–which involved several meetings with Fundi David, returning to the drawing board half way through to make a new design, and even making edits while Fundi David worked to build our vision. We then purchased all the supplies for four solar dryers, got the supplies, and the prototype, to our house in Tabora and planned our first building day for Fundi David to come and build with our partners. We called all our partners together and planned our schedule. Everyone was ready to go!

Then we could not get a hold of Fundi David. We tried calling over the course of several days and no response. Emma finally had the idea to call one of our Korogwe bajaj drivers, Twaha, and ask him to go to Fundi David’s workshop and see what was going on. Twaha called with bad news. Fundi David was in the hospital!

This was the one complication we did not plan for. We never thought that Fundi would get hurt and be unable to build the first round of solar dryers. And Fundi David is the only fundi in Korogwe that knows how to build our model.

So what did we do? How did we handle this set back?

First, we had to laugh. In Tabora we always find the positivity and the humor in our own mistakes, because it helps keep us going. After we laughed, we realized that there was plenty of other work that could be done in Tabora despite putting solar drying set-back. We were able to spend time with our partners outside of work. We asked Mama Hasani to teach us how to cook our favorite Tanzanian dish, kachumbali, which has tomatoes, onions, cabbage, lots of oil, and lots of salt, and got to have big feast with her family. We had time to focus on large orders coming in for our new product: fried peanuts. We had more time to plan our bi-monthly inventory of kitchen supplies. We were able to enhance one of our Q2 goals by working on a rubric for each partner that outlines her specific job in the business and the tasks to be completed each week.

We certainly managed to stay busy, despite this set back in our calendars. We have planned to begin building this Wednesday and hope that there will be no more unforeseen complications with our building day. Fingers crossed that it stays sunny!

We hope to complete the skeleton and main parts of four dryers before the New Year. Christmas will put a slight hold on our schedule, but we need time to celebrate with the entire community of Tabora and eat some really great food!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone reading! We appreciate your thoughts and words of encouragement as we ring in the New Year!

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Everyday in Tabora is an adventure. We frequently say “There is no dull moment in this village”. When Emma and I wake up we may have a potential plan in mind, but we always remain open to new experiences, twists in the road, and lots of laughter.

Yesterday, Emma and I were able to go with our neighbors to their farm to see their crops and their daily chores. We were finally able to use some of the vocabulary we learned before coming to Tanzania in the 2Seeds Pre Departure Curriculum. The curriculum taught us a lot of technical farming terms, verbs, and vocabulary which most of the projects use every day, but being in the food production business Emma and I have had not had a chance to show off our knowledge!

The farm is a large plot of land that has been with Bibi Miamuna for 30 years! She is currently growing corn, dark leafy greens, okra, and beans. We asked lots of questions about the farm land, and even picked some vegetables that we got to later eat with ugali for lunch!

We were really happy to spend some time with our neighbors and that we had a chance to get to know them, and their work, a little better.

Today, we are in Korogwe to pick up one solar dryer from Fundi David and to go with him to buy the supplies for four more dryers!

We had the chance to see the solar dryer last week before Fundi was able to put the finishing touches on, and it looks awesome! Fundi was able to take our crazy idea of putting the solar dryer on wheels and bring it to life. The dryer has 2 bicycle wheels to make it easier for partners to move the dryers in and out of their homes. It looks a little like a cart for selling food, but the top is a box with a tray covered in plastic for drying fruits and vegetables. Pictures coming soon!

Once we bring back the prototype to Tabora, and the supplies for the first 4 dryers, we will begin planning our building days with the partners and Fundi David. We hope to set up workstations where several dryers can be built at one time giving our partners the chance to construct the dryers themselves. We are going for a very hands on approach, hoping we can all learn something new and valuable through the process.

First step, is getting all the supplies with us safely back to Tabora! Wish us luck as we load up a gouta (a truck bed that attaches to the back of a piki piki) and head into Tabora!

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Hello from Tabora! Quarter 2 is officially under way! We have been working hard to set and begin making progress on our Quarter 2 Goals. These goals tackle some of our larger project activities and hopes for the next few months such as strengthening the business, working towards promoting leadership within our group, seeing an increase of sales in both Korogwe and Dar, and of course, better access to nutritional food through solar drying!

The business has seen an increase of sales in recent months and the partners are working harder than ever to continue to fill all the orders coming in. Just last week a shop in Korogwe asked the partners to make fried peanuts (made with salt, similar to peanuts back home) and they rose to the challenge! We were able to sell 30 bags of fried peanuts, as well as make three samples to go to other shops in the market. We are hoping this new product will take off this month.

We are going to continue to reinforce the business roles that the partners have taken on. We have struggled to help our partners understand the importance of taking an inventory of all kitchen supplies before we begin cooking. We want to try and hold everyone more accountable to their roles (such as sales and distribution of products, kitchen supplies inventory collection, attendance tracker, etc) and will be creating rubrics for each partner. We hope the rubric will be a guide for the partners so they can see what we are expecting each week and can more concretely track their individual progress.

For leadership and business curriculum trainings, we are working with the Network to have advanced sessions with our partners who are transitioning from a project to a business. This advanced curriculum is new to the Network and allows partners to be more involved in project discussions about Tabora as a whole.

Today, Ana the country director, came to Tabora to lead a session in which the partners completed a SWOT analysis of the project. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. Prior to this session, we had to conduct this analysis about the Tabora on our own project where we considered these different categories as well as placed them into internal and external categories. For example, an internal strength of the project is our partners’ dedication to the work and their high attendance at cooking sessions and at meetings. An external threat to the project is the road from here to Korogwe where we sell products. The road is poorly maintained, especially when it heavy rains come, and transportation along this road is very expensive.

The fact that our partners sat down and did the work that we have been doing these last few months was very impressive. These experiences are what sets 2Seeds apart from other organizations doing this kind of work. We are holding our partners to a high standard and allowing them to think through the project as much as we are. We are not hiding anything from them, but instead including them in the whole process. It was really cool to see all our Mamas think about Tabora as a whole, outside of just being a group of women who can cook some really awesome chips. By doing this work, we hope that one day they will run their own business that not only handles production of food products successfully, but thinks about food security and income security for their families while taking action to combat these larger concepts.

Finally an update on solar drying! We finally have a design that we feel confident is going to work really well for our partners. We needed to make a design small enough to fit into our partners’ houses every night and during heavy rains. We considered the possibility of partners having to move the machines themselves and being able to support the weight of the entire dryer. We have drawn up a blueprint of a solar dryer with wheels and handles that will function as somewhat of a cart. We are really excited to keep working with our “Fundi”, or handyman, on the design. We had a meeting with him to go over some changes (such as adding bicycle wheels to the design!) and asked him to build a prototype while we were away visiting the Masoko Project in Dar. The prototype was not quite what we hoped it would be, but he had fortunately only built the skelton, which gave us a great jumping off point to negotiate some changes. Emma went into Korogwe yesterday to present some of our idea for design changes (mostly making the machine much smaller) to Fundi David. The meeting went well and Fundi David seemed to gain a better understanding of what we want the machine to look like and how we need it to function in Tabora to best suit the needs of our partners. We will be taking a look at the new prototype this upcoming week! We hope everything was communicated properly to Fundi and that he will be able to make some great dryers for us.

Looking ahead to next week, we are taking turns visiting Tanga for the first Off-site meeting. This meeting gives us each a chance to visit Tanga, receive some feedback on our work so far (both from eachother and Ground Team), and spend time with 7 other PCs in a smaller group setting. While one person is in Tanga the other will stay in Tabora flying solo! We hope that we will each get to spend some one-on-one time with partners to help strengthen our relationships here in Tabora. It should be an exciting week and it will by far be the longest time we have been apart from each other since we started this adventure.

Wish us luck as we head into this next week full of travel and some alone time with the partners. Thanks for following our updates and for being a part of our network!