by Erwin Kinsey, MS, Global Service Corps Tanzania Country Director
The usefulness of organic produce in improving the diets of Persons Living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) is well known. Farmers have a general apprehension that the chemicals promoted by modern agriculture in fact exacerbate human disease, and they are interested in options which effectively control pests and improve production without expensive inputs. Strengthening income sources for small farmers alleviates poverty that drives the continuous spread of HIV/AIDS. These reasons are the driving forces for the recent increasing interest in organic farming among small holder Tanzanian farmers.
It was unfortunately assumed that farmers would find a ready market for their excess organic produce and that it would obtain higher prices. However, marketing has been problematic. This is partly due to lack of certification and un-readiness of purchasers to pay the additional costs which relate to organic produce. These costs relate to obtaining certification and to some extent a sacrifice in production levels in the early stages of converting to organic production. Groups lack skills in marketing, particularly the ability to provide a continuous and adequate supply to potential buyers. Some do not understand the importance of adhering to organic methods in order to maintain consumer trust.
Global Service Corps Response
Global Service Corps, founded in 1993 to provide opportunities for volunteers to work on public service projects in developing countries, came to Tanzania in May 2001. Since then about 360 volunteers have worked on a range of projects in the Arusha area. Its primary objectives are to:
-Educate and promote awareness of HIV and AIDS and promote low-risk behavior while encouraging a compassionate attitude towards those living with the disease.
- Educate about sustainable agriculture techniques so that families and farmers can feed themselves and their families more effectively.
In collaboration with local organizations partnering with local counterparts, volunteer participants have worked with 32 different primary farmer groups in Arumeru and Arusha districts teaching bio-intensive (organic) gardening. GSC-TZ maintains a demonstration plot at LITI Tengeru for training and exchange visits, and two full-time staff, plus a part-time consultant to further the needs of these 32 farmer groups and training of new groups.
Early on it was recognized that marketing of organic produce needed support. GSC-TZ volunteers engaged farmers groups to request funding for the construction of a special market at Patandi, which was obtained with support of the Rotary Club of Arusha.
However, despite some attempts at training groups in marketing skills, their inability to provide a continuous and adequate supply to potential buyers prevails. When funding to support group entrepreneurship was obtained through the Global Green Fund channeled through GSC-TZ, farmer groups were allowed to prioritize the use of the funds and did not consider marketing issues to be a high priority when it came time to use the funds. They instead bought dairy goats to increase their assets.
A Luta Continua (The Struggle Continues)
GSC-TZ sought other sources of revenue to support market training, and recognized that a group approach may be effective to spread training messages, but individual initiative is needed to ensure adherence to the standards required for the mark of certification. GSC-TZ approached a local funding source to support the training for certification. It is a timely, critical need/opportunity to help get three pilot groups started by helping them to embark on the certification process. The pilot groups are in Olasiti, Akheri, Kicharimpinda and Nguruma villages.
Organic Certification, a quality assurance and guarantee system whereby an operator/producer is certified and given a MARK to guarantee that the product meets quality standards, has two approaches in Tanzania. Farmers will be made aware of the two main certification systems, but the less stringent approach is adequate for the local market, and will be promoted in the first instance. Quality will be achieved by a planned group monitoring scheme in course of production, handling, storage, transportation, processing etc. The quality management system will enable achieving the quality objective. It is called the “Participatory Guarantee System (PGS)”, characterized by the following:
• A grower group or association or cooperative is identified and trained in organic practices by an NGO, Extension or Operator.
• The group is facilitated to understand different Quality Standards like EAOPS
• A quality management system (QMS) like (PGS) is arranged whereby commitment to meeting quality standards is made by individual members of a group.
• Participatory assessment will be made regularly to check if the QMS is efficiently working.
• Reports on what is happening at the group level concerning quality will be prepared after follow up and decisions or actions taken necessary for sharing among key actors like the Facilitating NGO, the Tanzania Organic Agriculture Movement (TOAM), Buyers, Members and others.
• Based on the assessment of the implementation of the QMS, an organic quality guarantee Mark will issued to a group, or members within a group, for product labeling.
• The group applies for the Organic Mark from TOAM who are custodian of the Mark. Application is accompanied by report on the functional ability of the QMS.
• TOAM participates in facilitating organic stakeholders like grower groups to understand quality standards (EAOPS) and institute a quality management system to a level of accessing the Organic Mark.
TOAM and NGOs facilitate organic marketing strategies like a box scheme, strategic open market promotion, marketing/supply centre, hotel and/or supermarket linkages. This will be a continuous process if the group is committed to achieving the quality objective by reinforcing the QMS, thereby guaranteeing quality, a strong tool in accessing and maintaining a market/customer. Trust with customers/ buyers will be achieved and maintained in the process. All stakeholders need to assure that what is marketed as organic meets the organic quality standards (EAOPS).
Facilitation costs ordinarily will be shared among the group or facilitating organization and TOAM. These currently are the major constraint for GSC-TZ to engage TOAM for the 32 groups with which GSC-TZ currently is working. GSC-TZ is keen to at least start with the well-established groups to achieve a success record and experience in the certification process. The training duration will be two days, followed by a two week interval during which time the group will prepare a system of oversight and self-organization, followed by one additional day and a half to determine the appropriate system. This amounts to three and one half days facilitation per group.
In an ideal world, a problem can be solved by a simple investment of time and funding. In the development context and particularly among small, risk-averse farmers, it is sometimes hard to know what forces will lead to success. While the outcome of GSC-TZ’s accompaniment of small farmers is still to be fully evaluated, GSC-TZ volunteers and staff will continue to advance efforts to achieve program objectives on behalf of Tanzania farmers and their struggle to economically support organic production.