Thursday in Tanzania visiting the rice fields

Posted by Jack Monroe blogger and anti-poverty activist

9th Jan 2014

This week, food writer and UK poverty campaigner Jack Monroe is visiting Oxfam's projects in Tanzania. Today she met farmers in Shinyanga, who are lifting lives with the income made from farming rice and maize.


We bounded into an Oxfam Land Cruiser early this morning - after a breakfast of mandazi (deep fried donuts) and fresh eggs and banana at the hotel. I'm really enjoying the local cuisine, but it deserves it's own blog post I think!

We (me, Mora from Oxfam GB, and Bill and Teresa from Oxfam in Dar Es Salaam) were setting off on the two-hour journey to the rice and maizr fields in Ngaya, Shinyanga - you get used to being thrown and bumped around on the roads very quickly, as the driver navigated potholes as wide as the road and as deep as the wheels, children playing in the road, and cattle ambling in front of the vehicle.

We stepped out of the Land Cruiser to the sound of song, forty or so farmers clapping and singing to greet us. Naturally shy, I hung back a little, eventually coaxed in by a woman I later learned was called Lydia (pictured with me, above), a female farmer who shared 25 acres of land with her husband.

We were introduced to the farmers association committee, and I spoke briefly through Bill, who translated my clumsy words into Swahili, thanking them for their song, and telling them that I am a food writer for newspapers in England, and that I am interested in how rice and maize are grown and traded - also to speak to women farmers individually, learn about their lives, the challenges they face, and also their triumphs and successes.

Lydia - who I mentioned earlier - has three children; her son works for the military in Zanzibar, one daughter is married, and another still lives with her parents and works in the town as a seamstress and hairdresser.

"My children value what I am doing", she said, explaining that all of her children were able to attend school because of the money she made from farming. She and her husband, Deogratius, grow rice, maize and sunflower on their 25 acres of land.

"If everything goes as planned in the next two years, I would like to own a good house. And perhaps a car." The plans she speaks of include the building of dams in the area, for which some farmers have given up six acres of land in order to guarantee that they can irrigate their crops in the drier weather.

We went on to visit a warehouse in the village, a former community hall, where the farmers association store their rice in sacks for sale. The farmers proudly show off their weighing machine (pictured below), funded by Oxfam, telling me that before they had their own machine, the traders would bring their own, which had been tampered with - effectively allowing traders to steal from the farmers by buying the rice at a lower price. Now with the new weighing machines, they can bag their rice up at 100kg, and sell it for their own price. With a treasurer and an accountant on the committee, they can also ensure that they have a 'base price' to bargain from, their production costs.

One farmer explains: "Before we had the warehouse, we received around 40,000 Tanzanian shillings (£15) for a bag of rice. Now we receive TSH60,000, sometimes up to 65,000 (£25)."

Another added, "When a woman has knowledge, there is no one who can take it away from her. Once you have it, you have it."

We went from the warehouse to Lavina's rice nursery (pictured below), a small plot of land around half an acre, where seeds are planted first, and then transplanted into larger fields after 20-30 days. They will take a further five months before they will be ready for sale.

The farmers in Ngaya currently have no milling machine, so they transport their rice to the town centre 40km away, at a cost of TSH2500 per bag, and a further TSH2500 for the cost of milling.

"If we had a machine to mill the rice, we would not incur the transportation costs, and the buyers would come directly to the village, to the warehouse. The remains from the milling process are currently left in town - if we had them here, we could use them to make bricks to build houses, and to make compost for the crops." - The Farmers Association committee.

The total cost of transporting the rice to be milled is almost 10% of the price of each bag of rice. Giving the farmers a milling machine would effectively give them a 10% pay rise.

Here's the rub. A milling machine costs TSH20million. Sounds like a lot, but with TSH2600 to the £1, it's a little under £8,000. Or 320 bags of rice.

So for all of their successes and triumphs so far, the formation of the Farmers Association, the warehouse to store crops, the ability to negotiate an honest price for their crops - there is still work to do. I'm hatching a plan - you know you'll be the first to know about it when I do…

On a calendar in the Oxfam office in Shinyanga, Tanzania:

"Sisi ni familia moja tunafanya kazi pamoja kutokomeza umaskini." - We are a family working together for a future without poverty.

Asante sana. (Thank you).

Jack Monroe. Twitter: @MsJackMonroe

Photos by: Mora McLagan/Oxfam

Blog first published in A Girl Called Jack


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blogger and anti-poverty activist

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