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Tabora followers, donors, and friends,

Sincerest apologies for our lack of blog posts in these recent months. Time got away from us and we spent as little time out of Tabora and away from our work as possible. We have been busy working towards our transition period coming up in just one week! We have been preparing partners to be on in Tabora without PC support for the month of July and August. This means we have been working to solidify our schedules and processes for collecting orders, cooking orders, delivering orders, as well as recording sales, and completing a weekly inventory of supplies. We have been working all year on these important processes to steam line everything and create as much clarity as possible. Partners have been really patient through the year, adding in their ideas as well as listening to us when we want to shift the way we handle the business or schedule. We are grateful for their critical thinking as well as their dedication to their business. We have been having what we like to call a “good problem to have!” with our business over the last few months. The business is growing too quickly to financially cover the growth. This means that as PCs we have invested a lot of money into the business for inputs, but it also means that orders keep growing and revenue is bursting through the roof! It has not been easy to explain why the partners are working harder with longer hours than ever before, but seeing little increase in their own profits.  We are working to keep the energy up as well as trying to work together through the numbers and possible solutions to our rapid growth.

As we account for this growth on the ground within our budget and business finances, we are trying to account for the growth in physical ways as well. We began building a large storage unit (12 X 15 ft) next to the group kitchen. This will be a place to organize and measure supplies before they reach the kitchen. It will also be a space for packaging products before they are shipped to Korogwe or Dar Es Salaam. We sincerely hope that this unit will be completed this week! We are really excited about this addition to the project and think it will help to further professionalize our cooking process.

We also wanted to take a minute to welcome our new project coordinators to Tabora! We feel confident that the Tabora project is in good hands as Isabel (and her to be determined teammate!) take over the project in late August. The new PCs will be taking over blog, twitter, instagram, and facebook communications. We cannot wait to watch their progress and successes over the next year.

Thank you for keeping in touch with us, Emma and Siobhan, as we worked in Tabora and with the 2Seeds Network during the 14-15 project year. We are forever grateful for your support, both financially and emotionally, as we spent one amazing year in Tanzania. We are looking forward to telling the world about Tabora and our partners. They make us proud every single day.

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We cannot believe that Quarter 3 is almost over! April 30th marks the end of this quarter and we are already planning our goals for Quarter 4. A large part of our work this year has been solidifying the business and getting the solar drying initiative off the ground. We are going to continue to monitor and evaluate these two large activities with our Quarter 4 goals. We want to ensure that the business will be able to continue normal activities during the transition period (the period in which we will have left Tanzania but the new PCs have not yet arrived). And we want to make sure that partners feel confident using their solar dryers.

The business has seen a spike in sales with our three new buyers in Korogwe. These buyers approached us in February and have been placing large and consistent orders for all of our products. We were really happy to see this consistency, with our new and old buyers alike, and were hopeful for our March profits. Unfortunately, peanut prices spiked in the market this month. The rainy season has begun which means that farmers all over this region have begun planting their crops. We are now in a waiting game. Crops will not be harvested for the next few months. This means that market prices have increased for almost all staple foods and produce, and fresh foods in Tabora are harder to come by. This increase in prices meant that we still cooked and sold peanuts, but our profit margin for peanuts was diminished. In March we cooked over 1,000 bags of peanuts. Our fried peanuts have been a huge success in Korogwe! But our profits for March ranged between 15-27,000 TZS per partner. The partners have been learning about the concept of “breaking even” in the buisness curriculum. We reazlied that although profits were low, this was a great teaching moment. We did make a profit this month. We did not break even on our products. Our group leader, Mama Mwaliko, did a really great job explaining this to the whole group. She read out all the numbers we calculated together and explained that peanuts turned a profit, even though it was not as high as we wanted it to be. The business understands that high profits are not a guarantee every month. We will see some great months and some harder months, but we are still in this together!

Because of the rains we have not been able to use the solar dryers as much as we wanted to this past month. We are still drying goods as much as possible and celebrating when we see the sun! Emma made a great solar drying video to highlight some of the work we have accomplished so far. The link is on our facebook page—check it out! https://www.facebook.com/taboraproject?ref=bookmarks

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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!