Recently, VECO EA underwent some major changes. Over the last months, our staff has been very busy implementing the new strategy and programs, opening new offices, and getting familiar with different work areas. However, the fruits of the hard work of the past are all but forgotten. That is why three of our colleagues found their way to the field, looking for evidence of the sustainability of the onion project in Simanjiro, phased out in 2012.
In short, the onion project was targeted at empowering subsistence farmers along the Pangani River, which runs as a green lifeline through the arid Simanjiro plains, inhabited by Masai pastoralists. Most of the farmers there used to grow for subsistence, but after the introduction of onions as ‘cash crop’ some of these farmers started to gain a reasonable income from their farming activities. Whereas in 2008 many of those who depended on food distribution during the dry season now engaged in onion production, and make a profit of 1200€/year on average. This is more than the wage of a salary worker in the major cities. Two years after the phasing out of the programme, we found that these results were sustainable. Below you can find the stories of two of the participants of the programme.
Meet Ghohia, an experienced 49 old onion farmer who has been growing onions since 2005, together with her husband. They used to grow onions on a piece of land of one acre, but recently they made a big investment in their future, as they bought two more acres of fertile land. Thus, in the 2013 season, they produced three acres of onion, and luckily, it appeared to be a good year. They produced 240 bags, which they could sell at a high price (80 000/bag), resulting in a sales value of almost 20 000 000 TZS (9000€). The household can keep most of the revenue to themselves, as five out of seven members cultivate the land. Only during harvesting and transplanting, they have to hire 20 to 30 people for a very short period. The two men work eight hours per day, the women six. This allows Ghohia to attend three meetings of three different farmer organizations per week. When asked for the main reason of this giant leap, she replied that over the last years, her knowledge on farming grew substantially through trainings and discussions with other farmers in the farmer organizations. Other reasons were: better access to agricultural extension services, and the new possibility to buy some of the inputs in the village, as one of her onion farmers colleagues opened up a store. As Ngage is a remote village, this is a major improvement.
The benefits of the risen income are very tangible. Ghohia is sitting in front of her new brick house, almost finished. It is one of the few brick houses in the village. The household used to own only one house, but because of their growing income, they now own four houses. They also bought a small hand tractor to better be able to cultivate their land. Four of her children are now able to attend secondary school. Two bicycles, one motorbike, three radios and two mobile phones were bought due to the revenue of the onion farming. And lastly, the family was able to diversify their income by opening a small store.
Nashumala, a proud mother, is married to a man who has three other wives. She is the head of a household of five children; an extra member is expected soon. In 2012, she started to produce two acres of onions so that she would grow more independent of the income of her husband. As a member of the farmer organization Namelok, she learnt how to cultivate onions, which resulted in a harvest of 82 bags in 2012, and a very good harvest of 124 bags in 2013. In that last season, she made a profit of almost 7 000 000 TZS (3000€). The importance of the famer organization in her fast progress as an onion farmer cannot be underestimated; it enabled her to take “a very big step in one time”, as she says. Thanks to the growing income from onion farming, she was able to improve the life of her family in several ways. She bought a house, and a solar installation to electrify it. To diversify her income, she acquired five goats and some cattle. And finally, as a member of the women’s group Emaboishu she produces handicrafts, resulting in an extra income.