(Above: Mtafiti, Omari, and Frida prepare for an early morning sale in Korogwe)
A fellow Project Coordinator recently introduced me to a news source called TheSkimm. TheSkimm, intended for rused commuters without time to read the morning paper, boils down the day’s major headlines into a single conversational email, squeezing the essentials out of dense news stories. TheSkimm has also proven ideal for people who, say, are living in a remote village and are interested in staying connected to global events, but can only download email to their phones from a specific spot next to their outhouse when the weather is clear (certainly a feat as we have recently entered the short rainy season, Vuli)
For new readers, donors, and supporters, we’d like to give you a “skim” of what the Lutindi Project looks like as we embark on month two in the project site. It is our hope that this blog post will bring you up to speed on the complexity and scope of the Lutindi Project as we continue to keep you updated (with more detail) in future blog posts. So, without futher ado…
T H E L U T I N D I P R O J E C T
Lutindi is a collection of seven sub-villages nestled in the beautiful Usambara Mountains in the Korogwe district of Tanga, Tanzania. While strikingly beautiful, the geography of Lutindi also presents significant challenges of Market Access for resident farmers. Unreliable infrastructure and high transportation costs make selling in major Korogwe markets unprofitable, if at all possible.
The Lutindi Project, 2Seeds Network mitigates challenges of market access through the creation of Umoja wa Wakulima (translated to Farmers United), a farming cooperative that allows 21+ partners to produce and sell cooperatively, maximize revenue, and ultimately achieve income security. These partners are led by an elected leadership of six committed partners, ranging in roles from group treasurer to sales chair. The Lutindi project is entering its 6th year of operations, and has already seen incredible productivity and advancement from partners, leadership, and project coordinators.
This year, the Lutindi Project has a challenging task at hand: converting the project to full local ownership and sustainability. In other words, assuring that UW can still thrive in the absence of outside intervention (i.e. us). To do so, we’re working with Lutindi Partners to square away financial and operational systems alike. Below are the areas where major kinks need to be worked out in order for UW to persevere.
- LOANS: Micro-loan systems in the Lutindi Project have been constructed, reworked, and refined since late 2012. Microloans were instrumental in allowing group planting and harvesting schedules to remain productive. For the past 2 years, UW Treasurer, Samtoi Sigano, has successfully managed loan repayment processes and the development of loan schedules. Recently, however, partners have not been able to pay their loans in intended biweekly periods. This issue, as well as the new demand to transition to full local ownership at the end of this term, has prompted project coordinators and Umoja wa Wakulima to implement a new loan policy. Partners will not be issued inputs (seeds, fertilizers, etc.) if they have outstanding loans. Additionally, a goal to pay all existing loans has been set and communicated to partners for the end of October. Once all loans have been repaid, project coordinators and group leadership will dissolve the loan system entirely, and implement a group savings account. The group savings account will increase group accountability and allow for a (hopefully) seamless transition away from the micro-loan system.
- SALES: Sales chairs Thomas and Frida have found continued success in their management of weekly Korogwe and Hotel sales. Cabbages, beets, green peppers, and tomatoes have been sold in bulk to regular buyers in Korogwe, and the dynamic duo continues to entice new buyers into purchasing their produce regularly. Thomas and Frida work with the Austin and I to proportionately distribute revenue and transit costs to all partners involved in each sale. Their business training (and sheer attention to detail) is impressive, and we are confident that they will successfully carry the sales responsibilities of the group. Over the next several months, the PCs and the group leadership will work to meet new monthly production, profit, and revenue goals – to ensure that each months sales are examined critically, especially once we have left the project site. Lastly, Austin and I are currently considering a new leadership role of Production Chair. Recently, the need for a position that oversees production prior to sales has become increasingly important. As of now, Austin and I host production meetings, and assist in determining the amount of seeds distributed to each member of each production group. This is a roll that will obviously need to be assumed by a member of UW. Secondly, several sales have seen the contribution of inadequate, low-grade produce from partners. This pushes up the percentage of revenue used for transportation (our goal is to keep it under 30 percent) and, in turn, lowers the group’s Return on Investment.
- INVOLVEMENT: Of the 2Seeds Network projects, the Lutindi Project has the largest number of partners. However, the size of the Lutindi Project is also essential to its success – by working collectively to mitigate the issues of market access specific to the area. Thus, significant attendance issues at group meetings have prompted the UW Leadership to visit each partner individually to reaffirm their commitment to UW. These visits will be happening explicitly in October, and a continued tone of group accountability will be encouraged throughout the next several months.
Project Expansion: Things Get Spicy
(Above: UW Partner, Patrick, shows Andrew one of his many thousands of cardamom plants and discusses group spice production)
In assuring the transition of the Lutindi Project to a sustainable business this year, Austin and I are also eager to ensure that the Lutindi Project continues to consider ideas for business expansion. Thus, in addition to working with UW to develop a 5-year business plan, Austin and I will be working with the group to increase spice production capability – an incredibly lucrative market, and relatively untapped resource of the UW group.
Last year, PCs noticed the vast amounts of cardamom grown by UW partners, and began to explore the possibility of spice production (it is typically used in local cooking and rarely brought to market). Initial attempts and brainstorming projected the spice to bear high profits– especially in Dar Es Salaam. After preliminary trials with packaging and sales, last year’s PCs, Ross and Jen, confirmed their projections with a successful sale.
Over the next several months, Austin and I will work to increase and standardize a spice production system in Lutindi. Initial conversations with partners who harvest iliki (cardamom, in Swahil ) have expressed a mutual excitement. Some, in fact, have also suggested using the production system to produce other profitable spices other than cardamom, such as cinnamon. We hope that through project management, capital investments for production, packaging and storage purposes, as well as human capital development of a team of partners who have proven to be experts in cardamom harvesting, we will be able to provide a framework for a sub-business to take the partners of Lutindi even further on the road to maisha bora.