About three weeks ago Rachael wrote a post about the first shamba we had the opportunity to visit here in Tabora. Happily, I can report that we have been able to visit many more since then. Some of the observations made on these shambas have led to a few questions.
The differences between the farms themselves is at times quite startling. The soils vary from the awful sticky red clay that makes up all of the paths and roads in this area, to the most earthy-smelling organic-matter filled soil I have ever seen. Some of the fields are flat and even, while others are on the side of hills, and others are bumpy from years of being planted with nothing more than a hand hoe.
Each family seems to have embraced different techniques for planting and cultivating as well. Some plant only two seeds per hole; others up to four. Some soak their seeds a full 24 hours before planting; others plant them completely dry. Some families plant three crops on the same stretch of land (in one case, maize, gourds, and pigeon-peas) while others will only plant maize.
In stark contrast to the maize only fields, some families have elaborate shambas filled with lime, orange, banana, mango, and coconut trees, cassava, and potatoes, and of course maize and beans. The curious thing about these families (who appear to be better off, providing them with more options) is that they will have one developed shamba and a couple other shambas that follow the more minimalist pattern of their neighbors. In this case, simpler is not better. A shamba with a greater variety of crops is more likely to succeed and more likely to bring money in to the family. The proper variety, balanced like a natural ecosystem, even can make the land healthier and more fertile.
So why do the farming practices in Tabora differ so greatly? Surely the people here have seen that the farmers that follow certain practices do better overall than the farmers who do not.
The differences may be in part due to access to information: we know one farmer who began planting orange trees after she attended a seminar on grafting given by one of the agricultural officials nearby. However, those who are not able to attend are still able to see the progress in their neighbors’ shambas and can mimic them: we know another farmer whose shamba is just as successful who learned the same practices just by observing other farmers nearby.
Why don’t more people follow suit? Is it simply a lack of access to the necessary resources? Are people too afraid to try, doubting the success of the first few years and fearing the results of failure? How would we, with our own limited resources, address a whole community of people who want to plant more and better crops? How could we tackle a problem a big as fear?