Vegetable project transforms farms to cash cows

A project to train young entrepreneurs on vegetable cultivation in Tanzania is paying off with thousands of youth commercializing vegetable production and addressing household nutrition.

This has kindled a boom that was traditionally there in farming vegetables for business. Other vegetables grown in the area include spinach, amaranthus, chinese, African eggplant, tomatoes and among others. The Eastern and Southern Africa’s peri-urban horticulture initiative (VINESA) has been pivotal in fostering entrepreneurship among young farmers in the area.

The four-year project came after realizing that most smallholder farmers in Africa and Tanzania in particular produce vegetables during the rains when every other farmer does the same. The result is an oversupply of vegetables in the wet season and scarcity in the dry season, leading to low income for farmers and high prices for consumers.

To encourage farmers to change their mindset and behavior, the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research-funded project "Improving income and nutrition in Eastern and Southern Africa by enhancing vegetable-based farming and food systems in peri-urban corridors".

The four-year VINESA project organized a series of training courses for young farmers in Tanzania, whereby HORTI-Tengeru and the World Vegetable Center-Eastern and Southern Africa (AVRDC-ESA) equip farmers with knowledge and skills on value chain thinking.

The first batch of twenty female and male farmers aged 18 to 35 from Maweni Village in Arumeru district have benefited from the project, which are currently implemented in four African countries of Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique and Ethiopia.

The project, which is enchored on reducing malnutrition and poverty, increasing employment, started in June 24, 2013 and is to end by July 31, 2017. Andrew Pallangyo is a beneficiary of the project, who said: "Before the training I used to sell my vegetable in the market, where I used to get little profit compared to the new system of the market we have been linked with." 

He said the move has changed the entire perception of farming "as we have been linked with buyers and even seed breeders, in the past I used to grow vegetables for food only, but now we are growing for producing seeds, where we enter into contracts with seed companies and we get good money compared to what we used to do in those days."
Neema Kaaya, a vegetable seller in Usa River area observes:

"It is wrong for farmers to assume they will get similar prices for their produce as those being offered by traders for premium produce." She expresses interest in buying vegetables from the trainees once they graduate from the Best Practice Hub—provided their vegetables that meet required standards for type, quality and quantity.
Trained vegetable growers have started securing contracts of supplying vegetables to nearby boarding and day schools, hotels and other institutions.

Agatha Aloyce VINESA’s Tanzania Country Coordinator, explains the need to produce vegetables for a given market opportunity. According to her, value chain thinking places the needs of consumers and customers first, and aims to build lasting relationships among chain actors to meet those needs.

Radegunda Kessy, vegetable research associate suggests the urgent need for chain actors to understand the needs of consumers and customers. "They must learn which actions cause waste and which add value to appropriately allocate available resources."

She encourages vegetable growers to produce what they can sell rather selling what they have produced—a strategy that shifts emphasis from trying to push vegetables produced through the chain to pulling these vegetables from the demand of consumers at the end of the chain.

Florence Ghamunga, VINESA’s Gender Expert, says maximum returns to households often depend on gender relations in value chains. She emphasizes the need to address gender diversity to strengthen equity among individuals, families, households, and societies. More equitable access to resources (land, money, transport); greater roles in decision making; a fairer division of labor; and more sustainable partnerships make stronger chains that support more stakeholders.
Dr. Thomas Dubois, Director of AVRDC- ESA said:

"What we real aim to do is to get more money in the pockets of smallholder farmers, particularly on small plots located in areas around cities." The official describes the role of VINESA in improving community nutrition in Tanzania by encouraging vegetable consumption as the most affordable source of protein, vitamins and micronutrients.

The project is focusing on developing improved traditional and global vegetable varieties, strengthening local seed supply systems introducing sound crop management practices and establishing effective value chains. Nyerembe Munasa, district commissioner for Arumeru urges to wake-up and hurriedly embark into vegetable farming—an activity, which has proved to be ideal for creating, jobs to the important segment in the society.

"We’re living in a very competitive world, whereby employment opportunities are very limited. "But, for Tanzania, this is a different story as we’re endowed with a wide-range of natural resources and among them is fertile land, where we can grow a number of crops.

So, it is time for the youth to chip-in and embark into farming, particularly vegetable farming," he said. 
It is estimated that more than 6,000 smallholder farmers in those countries will have access to and adopt improved practices and technologies for more, safer and nutritious vegetable for sale and household consumption by 2017.