About the Author: Ertharin Cousin serves as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies in Rome.‘Tis the holiday season: Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanza. In Tanzania where I spent the end of last week, I heard people talking a lot about Kwanza. Kwanza is not a holiday here but part of a phrase that government officials and farmers repeat with pride. It is a slogan for national action, for community involvement, for farmer empowerment and youth employment. Kilimo Kwanza (pronounced: KEE-LEE-MO KAWAN-ZA) is Swahili for agriculture first, agriculture as homegrown priority, agriculture as driver of economic growth with farmers as agents of change. Every time I hear Kilimo Kwanza in this melodic language, it's music to my ears.
Arusha, a hub for international tourism in Northern Tanzania, not far from the Serengeti, and close to Mount Kilimanjaro, has been my base camp for the second half of my trip to Eastern Africa. Many pockets of this region are drought-prone and have suffered from two years of less than average rainfall. While this area is the most food insecure in the country, the few sites I visited showed me how agricultural development through education and entrepreneurship can help alleviate poverty.
On Thursday, I traveled across the savannah, occasionally spotting lone pastoralists with herds of livestock, to reach two isolated communities where the returns are evident on food security investments. First, I visited a community that received financing from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) to set up a canal system to irrigate their farm land. They also received food from WFP in exchange for work completed on a market-access road. I spent the morning talking to both male and female farmers whose lives have been transformed through this steady water source and transport road.
The region of Arusha boasts the second highest school enrollment and retention rates in Tanzania. School feeding programs support this achievement and will sustain it despite the global economic downturn. A few days before I arrived in Arusha, the U.S. and WFP's Tanzania office signed an agreement to use $16 million of a $37 million contribution in Global Financial Crisis support funds to scale up its school feeding programs. These funds will reach semi-nomadic families in tribes like the Maasai who I met in the Monduli District on Thursday. The contribution will also build government capacity to launch a nation-wide school feeding program in the coming years. The “Delivering as One” UN country team in Tanzania support this essential capacity building.
On Friday, our visits took us close to Mount Kilimanjaro. Around the mountain in rural villages, FAO-supported farmer field schools are teaching farmer groups how to increase their yields and protect the environment through a conservation agriculture program. Latin American farmers faced with severe soil erosion developed these techniques and FAO has helped to spread this best practice. The farmers showed me how cover crops like cow pea plants and minimal tilling performed with specialized equipment reduce their labor and maintain the moisture of the soil. In fact, they told me that their neighbors, who do not follow this method, were jealous of their increased yields and “magic seeds” after losing most of their crops before the last harvest season.
Local farmers in isolated communities are doing more than just coaxing more fruit from the land through sustainable farming practices. They are adding value to crops and reducing crop loss through innovative methods. I was so impressed by the entrepreneurial spirit and achievements of a group of women who have formed a business group in the Hai District. Through small-scale loans from an IFAD-supported program, they dry fruit and vegetables in simple solar drier boxes and grow mushrooms in plastic bags filled with straw. They are producing for a strong local market that has flooded them with orders. I hope that they and many of their compatriots will be able to continue to grow their businesses, produce beyond the needs of their own families, and contribute to national and regional economic growth under future projects supported by the Tanzania government in partnership with the international community. I remain hopeful that seeds are being planted on fertile ground.
Read the Ambassador's previous entry.