Problem Solving in the Vegetable Garden with Womens’ Farmer Field Schools: Increasing Income and Fresh Food
By Alexandria Fisher
Two of the primary goals for the women farmers of the Mazingira Farmer Field School in Tanzania are to: 1) increase household income levels; and 2) diversified food consumption at the household level.
What was the best way to reach these goals? What was needed to reach these goals? And how could long-term sustainability be ensured in pursuing these goals?
These are some of the questions that CPAR tackles when working alongside Farmer Field Schools like the one in Mazingira. During initial consultation, these women farmers expressed their interest in starting vegetable gardens. This could be one way in which these complex goals would be achieved.
The next step to be taken on this identified strategy was to identify the potential barriers and challenges that could be encountered. The challenges identified by the women included their limited knowledge of vegetable production, lack property rights and a shortage of water.
For the project to succeed, the vegetable garden to flourish and for the women to meet their goals, EACH of these challenges needed to be addressed. Each of these challenges could be seen as a puzzle piece, its solution vitally needed in order to complete the project on the whole. Indeed, one missing piece and the puzzle would remain unfinished.
The first challenge of limited knowledge of vegetable production was addressed through the structure of the Farmer Field School (FFS). The all-women Mazingira FFS group came together to take part in training and expand their collective knowledge on such topics as seedbed preparation, record keeping, and pest and disease control.
Next, to address issues surround their lack property rights, the Mazingira FFS group met with the village government and established a five-year written agreement to have full control over a one acre piece of land beside a stream. This enabled the group to be confidant that the land would not change ownership and their labour efforts would not be in vain.
Finally to address the challenge of water shortages, CPAR provided treadle pumps for the irrigation of the group’s vegetable garden. Training was provided within the FFS group setting so that the women would have a strong grasp on this new irrigation tool. The treadle pump is user friendly and operates in a Stairmaster-like fashion to lift water to a height of up to 7 metres. The pump helps provide regular irrigation, making crops less vulnerable to drought and saving farmers a lot of time and energy.
“This is magical” says Amsi Qwendo. “Pumps have liberated us from the cumbersome and tedious work of carrying water in buckets.”
Through addressing each challenge, multiple positive outcomes have emerged to help the women of the Mazingira FFS group reach their goals of increased income and diversified household-level food consumption. $190 (Canadian) has been generated to date from the sale of garden vegetables, and these sales are expected climb. These profits have been used to improve livelihoods by enabling the provision of loans to individual members in order to pay school fees, purchase school uniforms, or purchase farming inputs such as seeds.
There were several possible routes to take to realize this group’s goals. Approaches such as providing cash handouts or food aid are not favoured by CPAR as these “gifts” offer little in terms of sustainable long-term impact. According to FFS member Matilda Jacob, “cash is fine” but training has provided the opportunity to organize, share information and develop skills that will ultimately improve the well being of the entire FFS group while giving them the skills they need to be active members of the community (e.g. negotiation skills to lease property).
This positive example is not the product of luck but rather the product of well-informed and coordinated action. There are no simple solutions to complex problems; instead a multi-step approach to developing appropriate solutions and addressing challenges in needed. These are the types of programs that CPAR supports and facilitates.
With the close participation of communities CPAR is working in partnership with many communities like this one to meet their income and food security goals.