Water Management – Part II!

After a brief hiatus – we’re back! Several exciting project developments (as well as wifi troubles) have kept us from our regular blogging, but we hope that this post, and our next posts, will bring you up to speed on the past couple of weeks.

Today we’d like to give you another taste of the water management projects we’ve undertaken in recent weeks. In a previous post from Austin, you may remember an explanation of the rationale for investing and installing irrigation systems on Lutindi Project partners’ farms. This week’s post is intended to give you a better understanding of more recent planning and implementation that we’ve undertaken for the next round of investments

To start, here’s a bit of “water management vocabulary” that has, in both English and Swahili, been our bread and butter over the past few weeks.

Spring Box // Spring Box

A majority of the water sources sought for partners’ irrigation plans are from small rivers or streams. Often, these rocky streams don’t pool enough water to utilize hosing. Cue the spring box. The spring box, usually a small concrete-walled structure, traps and pools water in these rivers and thus, when attached with hosing, allows for steady water pressure throughout the length of the hose. For many of our partners’ spring boxes we will be looking at more affordable options other than concrete. Sand bags, for example.

Bwawa // Water Resovoir

 

Think: bigger spring box. Bwawa’s are much larger concrete structures that are dug into the ground, typically in close proximity to the farm itself. Bwawa’s are made of concrete and range in size. They are filled with water from a source (usually a river, many of which also require a spring box) and then utilize piping to irrigate surrounding land. Many of our partners maximize the usage of the bwawa by raising fish in the resovoirs. These are used to both eat, and sell.

Mpira Kuchimbia // Dug Pipe

This one’s pretty much self explanatory, but as we’ll be using several thousand meters of it for our projects, we’d say it’s pretty important. We’ll be using ¾” pipe to deliver water from both Bwawas and spring boxes, to their respective farms. Most of the time, this pipe will be dug under the ground, unless (as is the case for Samtoi and Vaita’s farms) it requires suspension to cross waterfalls (yes, we’ve been scaling waterfalls to take these measurements).

Mpira Kumwagilia // Watering Hose

 Last but not least: watering hose. Simple enough, but also one of the most important elements of each irrigation system. Lucky for us, many of the partners have volunteered to recycle some of their watering hose as to cut down on the expensive costs.

 

 

So, 2 weeks of intensive hiking, waterfall scaling, mountain trekking, and measuring, AND – drumroll – we’ve finally finalized and approved 13 irrigation systems to be installed over the next month or so. In some way shape or form, each project combines these 4 irrigation tools. Of course, this generous gift is costly, and we, as well as the Lutindi partners, are appreciative of our donors for making such an investment possible.

Therefore, we’ve naturally used this generosity as an incentive for partners to take a more active role in new changes in the project. So, in order for partners to receive these irrigation systems on their farms, they must first actively contribute to their individual savings accounts. These savings accounts are part of the Lutindi Project financial system. Unlike the previous micro-loan system, the savings system will provide partners with a system by which they can allocate a designated amount of monthly funds in order to purchase necessary agricultural inputs.

You can find out more about this financial shift in our next blog posts 

Mid-Year Investor Report

To Investors and Stakeholders in the Lutindi Project,

Since their arrival in August, Andrew and Austin, as well as Project Partners have been working ceaselessly across the network to go full steam ahead towards Maisha Bora, the good life. There are not enough words to express our gratitude for your support along this journey.

Andrew and Austin have prepared a Mid-Year Investor Report to capture the progress made so far in the first half of their time working on the Lutindi Project this year. The report includes highlights, challenges, status updates towards project goals, and a financial report. We hope that this report will provide good insight into the work here on the ground, and show you what we have been able to accomplish thanks to your support.

Lutindi Project 2015-2016 Mid-Year Investor Report

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, the Project Coordinators also filmed a video focusing on what they are most grateful for in their daily life and work here with 2Seeds.

Please support us in our ongoing journey to Maisha Bora by donating to the 2Seeds Network!

Asanteni sana from the 2Seeds Ground Team,

Ana, Jen, and Hailey

Water Management in Lutindi

Unlike many of the other 2Seeds project sites, Lutindi is endowed with ample water resources; primarily mountain springs and streams. This water allows our farmers to produce vegetables during the dry seasons when prices are higher. Yet at times, this abundance of water can be a challenge for the people of Lutindi. There are two rainy seasons in Tanzania. The shorter rainy season starts at the end of September and lasts through November. Lighter daily rains characterize this season, known by Tanzanians as Vuli.   The longer rainy season, Masika, starts in March and lasts through May. Masika generally has heavier downpours of rain causing flash flooding.

These drastic changes in rainfall throughout the year demand effective water management. In the Lutindi project, water management is especially important in assuring partners’ ability to produce vegetables consistently and reliably in order to sell collectively. Over the past several years, Lutindi project coordinators have made numerous capital investments on our partners’ farms. In order to mitigate these challenges, a large portion of project investments has been used to build storage ponds (bwawas). Our partners use these bwawas not only to store water when it is abundant and irrigate their crops, but also to grow fish that they either sell individually or use to feed their families. Other investments were used to purchase durable hoses that allow farmers to use the water from streams that flow above their fields. The final set of water management investments have been used to purchase manually powered pumps (monimaka or money maker) that allow farmers to water their crops from sources below their shambas. There is no question that these investments have greatly improved the harvest of our partners.

Moving forward, we will be completing a final round of capital investments to mitigate as much as possible the effects of weather on our groups’ production. The group leadership toured all of our partners’ farms (no small feat) surveying for water issues and interviewing our partners about what water management improvements would be helpful. Over the next few months, we will be finalizing these plans. Our goal is to have these improvements completed by the start of the hot, dry season in December.

– Austin

On Sales & Swahili

In early September, soon after we arrived in the project site, Umoja wa Wakulima had its first major sale of the month in Korogwe. To our delight, Austin and I were invited to partake in this sale – our first sale as Lutindi Project Coordinators.

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6 AM arrived far too quickly that morning, but the hot orange sun breaching over Mashinde (the rounded mountain peak visible from the bathroom) told me that it was going to be a good day. For someone who will never be considered a “morning person”, that’s saying something.

Thomas, Umoja wa Wakulima’s co-sales chair, rapped on our door around 6:30 AM with a gentle “hodi” and we immediately set off. Joined by Frida, Umoja wa Wakulima’s other co-sales chair, and a few of the partners selling crops that day, we took off for Masange, a subvillage of Lutindi on the west side of the mountain.

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Caffeine was surprisingly inessential this morning, as sitting in the bed of a pick-up winding through the rollercoaster roads of the Usmbara Mountains proved to provide plenty of natural adrenaline.

Omari and Evart, partners living in Masange, were ready with nearly 700 ripe cabbages. Several assembly lines, and a few group truck-pushes up slippery slopes later, we set down the mountain – atop a brimming bed of cabbages and bagged green peppers. As we bounced down the mountain, the plains invisible under the morning blanket of clouds, Thomas, Omari, and the other partners joked and laughed, clearly in good spirits about the large sale. Keeping up with their rapid Swahili was difficult enough – but a seat made of cabbages and distractingly stunning mountain views certainly added to the challenge. Nevertheless, their positivity and optimism was undeniably infectious.

The challenge of Swahili was made abundantly more apparent however, when we pulled into the Korogwe market, and eager buyers swarmed the truck. Amidst the distinct sound of cabbage-slapping (the most appropriate way to determine a cabbage’s quality) were shouts at the UW partners from buyers who had finished selecting their produce and ready to pay. Grading the cabbages was a whole new ball game that I was ill-prepared for. Buyers, as we attempted to calculate their sales, insistently argued over what was considered a “kabichi nkubwa” (big cabbage; TZS 400) and a kabichi ndogo (small cabbage; TZS 300)

Nevertheless, the truck bed’s contents steadily depleted, and by 1:00 Thomas, Omari, Austin and I were off to enjoy lunch at the local restaurant that served fresh avocado and passion fruit juice – ingredients purchased exclusively from lutindi partners.

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The mental exhaustion was certainly greater than the physical one during the sale. However the feeling of accomplishment was as high as ever. However, we returned to Lutindi that night (a successful first pikipiki ride, I may add) ready to begin our weekly Swahili practice with our new friend, Nora. Nora, who calls Germany home, is volunteering at the Lutindi Mental Hospital this year, and shares an equal determiniation to learn Swahili – especially for work purposes.

Learning the language has yet to feel like a burden, however, when working alongside enthusiastic partners who encourage us to work and learn alongside them.

As Umoja wa Wakulima says regularly, “Lutindi kwa pamoja, Tunaweza” – together, Lutindi can.

Andrew

The Business Curriculum: Developing Human Capital

Human capital development lies at the heart of the 2Seeds Network model. More than a simple lack of material goods, 2Seeds understands poverty as a multidimensional reality. In order to combat poverty, we must address its most profound effect: the restriction of individual choice and opportunity. By addressing poverty on this deeper level, we can overcome it in a way that honors human dignity and celebrates real partnership.

We recognize the complexity of the challenges faced by 2Seeds members and thus aim to create strong relationships based on trust, which consequently allow us to develop innovative ways to allow individuals to reach their fullest potential and achieve income security. Our approach embraces three areas:

Confidence: Unlocking people’s minds to help them recognize their own potential.
Capacity: Equipping people with the skills, connections and information they need to improve their productivity and sustain growth over time.
Opportunity: Creating an environment where problems can be solved, where there is room for second chances, and where people can achieve their full potential.

When 2Seeds members realize their full potential, the organization realizes its full potential. One of the most effective ways we achieve our capacity building goal is this through the 2Seeds business curriculum.

Last year, 25 Lutindi partners completed the first series of lessons. This provides a solid foundation in business principles. The business curriculum began with lessons on financial management. Our partners learned about the importance of record keeping in evaluating their crop production. Time management, a cultural challenge that conflicts with the conducting business operations in Tanzania, was discussed at length.   With all of these topics under their belt, our partners finished the curriculum by creating personal business plans, savings plans, and SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time bound) goals.

Our partners enjoy these trainings so much that they immediately asked to start the advanced trainings. On October 19, 2015, our partners began the advanced business curriculum. Over the next three months, they will be discussing goals further. They will also learn about measuring their progress towards their goals (metrics). Finally, they’ll cover the triple bottom line (an accounting system that records impacts on the business, society, and the environment) and how to determine the break-even point of projects. These topics are pretty complicated, but we are more than confident that our eager partners will rise to the occasion.

-Austin

Lutindi Loans

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(Above: Frida waters her freshly sewn Green Pepper seeds, distributed to her after her loans had been payed)

As promised, here’s a bit more on the challenges presented by the current Loan system of the Lutindi Project, and how we plan to move forward: 

In 2012, Lutindi Project Coordinators started a micro-loans program to allow our partners to purchase high quality seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides.   With these new inputs, farmers were able to produce the high quality produce that has been the backbone of the Lutindi Project’s market access program.

Over the past year, however, our partners’ crops have suffered from excessive water and cold weather. This resulted in several months of poor harvests. This has limited partners’ ability to pay back their loans and has also caused the balances to rise to an unsustainable level. It is important to our partners, PCs, and Ground Team that we do not forgive the loans. This, we feel, would create the wrong incentives for our partners and cause serious complications once the group is operating independently.

To prevent similar issues in the future, the group has adopted a new loan policy, and we will be continue to make improvements to water management practices on the partners’ farms over the next several months (a topic for another post). Partners will only be able to plant and buy inputs if they are current on their loans. This will keep loan balances in check and contribute to the long-term sustainability of the group.

This new policy is part of a larger shift in the finances of Umoja wa Wakulima. The group prefers that savings, instead of loans, should fund future production. This will remove the complications that come from trying to maintain cash flow and collect money from members in seven different villages. Group leadership is fully in support of the new plan, and we will begin accepting and overseeing contributions to the savings accounts in the next few weeks.

To mitigate the financial squeeze of paying loans and saving for the next season, the PCs and Ground Team are considering a number of possibilities to “jump-start” the group savings with an investment in our members. We will be sure to keep you posted as we set up this new system. It is certainly an exciting time for Umoja wa Wakulima, as we transition to a financial system that will last many years to come. Stay tuned!

– Austin

The “Skim” on the Lutindi Project

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(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

What’s Lutindi?

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 Project

 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.

What’s Next?

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

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(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.