March 29, 2004
My proposal for a Christopher Brodigan grant. This would become Part 1 of my DIY Peace Corps experience in rural Tanzania. The proposal was accompanied by a four-month budget for $3,210 that included roundtrip airfare, tree-planting materials, and seminar per-diems. My writing style in this piece is a little strange; it vascillates from bombastic to self-deprecating to ‘please fund me’.
I began working in Kambi ya Simba, a small, rural village in northern Tanzania’s Rift Valley highlands, in October-November 2002 while studying abroad with the School for International Training. During this time, I conducted scientific research regarding the extent and effectiveness of soil conservation measures employed in the village and incorporated these findings with farmer surveys to assess the socioeconomic factors that might inhibit their implementation. I mailed my final report to the village, and, nothing happened. In retrospect, the report only succeeded in quantifying certain problems that farmers are already intimately familiar with. Yes, productivity of the village’s major cash crop, wheat, had declined more than five-fold over a period of less than thirty years while simultaneously the population quadrupled and crop prices remained at near stasis. Yes, only 20% of the contour ridges I observed were “highly effective” in preventing soil loss. Yet what good—if any—does stating the obvious do for the people of this village?
Disheartened by the nominal utility of my first study, I returned to Kambi ya Simba this past summer to acquire data (in collaboration with the World Agro-Forestry Centre, ICRAF, in Nairobi, and funded by one of Wesleyan’s Davenport Grants) that was subsequently used to map village land use and soil quality remotely (i.e., using multiple satellite images) and to assess the impact of land husbandry practices vis-à-vis soil quality and crop productivity. These findings were then integrated with historical and socioeconomic research to prescribe a set of prioritized recommendations that are both inexpensive and can have immediate, positive impact on curbing soil quality declines in the village. On April 13, the first half—a ~280-page thesis—shall be complete; the second half—its implementation—awaits fruition.
In both of my visits to Kambi ya Simba and even here in the States I have worked closely with an indigenous NGO, MESO—the Multi-Environmental Society. The organization was founded in 1995 and operates in three regional chapters: Arusha, Dar es Salaam, and Kambi ya Simba. The headquarters is located in Arusha, although the NGO’s founder, Mr. Petro Ahham, grew up and still has family in Kambi ya Simba; thus, for the most part, programs in his village hold primacy. MESO is a member of ANGONET (Arusha NGOs Network) and receives most of its funding from SNV Netherlands. Its staff, with the exceptions of Mr. Ahham and his assistant director (who both live in Arusha), work for the NGO on a part-time, voluntary basis. MESO has a broad mission statement—“to address and tackle problems and issues pertaining to environmental dynamics and their social, cultural, economic, and ecological implications for humankind”—however their recent work has been confined mainly to “community conservation and dissemination of extension resources through seminars, training, and resources centers” in Kambi ya Simba.
During my stays in Kambi ya Simba, MESO have arranged room and board, provided extensive translation services (i.e., from the local language, Iraqw, to Kiswahili), and facilitated truly every aspect of my research (e.g., from administering 85 two-page surveys to assisting me in extracting, drying, sieving, labeling, packaging, and transporting over 40 kg of soil samples). In addition, we worked together during my second visit to develop the village’s first tree nursery (it now contains almost 20,000 seedlings of endemic species, which have recently begun to be distributed to households), to hold a community-wide, two-day seminar (with presentations from farmers and MESO representatives regarding soil conservation/agro-forestry), to construct a water pump (servicing approximately twenty households), and to distribute improved seed varieties to widowed mothers (allowing them to channel funds generated from increased crop surpluses into additional livelihoods and/or children’s primary education). Since 2002 I have remained in close contact with Mr. Ahham and his representatives in Kambi ya Simba, Mr. Octavian Hariohay and Mr. Albin Paulo; my family and I have made several donations to MESO that have been invested towards local initiatives and capacity building.
My third stay in Kambi ya Simba would be more than just a denouement to my previous visits. I intend to spend at least four months (August to December) in Tanzania: half of this time shall be spent in Arusha gathering resources to bring to Kambi ya Simba, working with Mr. Ahham to improve MESO’s facilities and outreach, and attending several ANGONET workshops scheduled in September and November; the other half shall be spent in Kambi ya Simba. We shall begin in Kambi ya Simba by holding a community seminar to discuss the progress of our previously instated projects (i.e., the nursery, water pump, and distribution of improved seed varieties) and the allocation of funds to foster their continuation. Then I shall present a condensed version of my thesis’ findings/recommendations and assist farmers in implementing them, both logistically and financially. To provide a specific example: crop growth in the arable soils of the village’s central region appears to be heavily limited by low nitrogen content, which can be ameliorated by planting hedgerows of the leguminous shrub Leucaena leucocephala in line with contour ridges; we shall provide farmers with seedlings of this shrub, assist them in planting (one week before the rains), and, if necessary, train them to graft new seedlings.
Virtually all such recommendations will not come as “news” to the village’s farmers; it’s their land—they know it far better than I do. We shall work together to fulfill our goals, to provide farmers with a greater buffer so they can invest in other needs, and, most of all, to reverse the plight enumerated so precisely in my first report.