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.