I bet the last thing that one thinks of when they hear words like ‘Ninja’ and ‘Karate’ would be anything close to agriculture and crop production. Popular Chinese movies, yes, but I doubt those words conjure up anything close to one of the most necessary elements in sesame production. But those are exactly the sort of names of brands of weed killers that allow women like Esha Bakari, a smallholder farmer who lives in a village in Nachingwea to cultivate and sell sesame, then use the proceeds to feed, clothe and take care of herself and her son.
However, no story is that simple; Nachingwea hosts just over 14,000 people, 62% of whom are women. Although people in this district largely depend on agriculture for a living, there is an acute lack of agro dealers. Until recently, farmers have had to travel to the small town of Masasi, and sometimes even take the often unreliable public transport for the 4 hour ride to Mtwara to get basic inputs like pesticides for their crops. This has not been a problem for cassava, but for the sesame crop, pesticides make a big difference. This problem is a greater challenge for women, who are have additional barriers beyond the inconvenient of long distance travel. Cultural practices of the area not only require that women obtain permission from their spouses before they leave; moreover, women leaving their homes for lengths of time is frowned upon.
A meeting between farmers and agro-dealers, facilitated by the Pathways team, has come up with the best proposal so far: the introduction and selection of villages based agents (VBA) who will act as a link between farmers and agro-dealers, ensuring that farmers have access to the inputs they want in the quality required on a timely manner. This process is to be supervised by the marketing committee in each village. Still being piloted at an early stage, we have already seen a difference from the views of farmers. When asked to comment on what she thinks of the exercise, Esha says, “Our farming system has changed now since we are accessing the inputs within our village we have been able to manage diseases that were mostly affecting our produce.”
She comments that the system stands to help a lot of women, and encourages those who are prevented in taking part in agriculture due to lack of inputs, to do so: ‘we are no longer travelling long distances to access the services as we used to. The timing could not be better, many farmers either already have or are considering increasing their farm size. I am going to increase my plot size from 0.5 acre to 1.5 acres next season if this system continues to function. Having the system in the village is encouraging…”
As for agro-dealers this arrangement also has positive results on them, since it means increased number of customers: “While we know a lot of people here work in cultivation, it is hard for us to gauge the need, or location of potential buyers. We were at a loss on how to link with farmers given the distance between our shops and villages, as well as between villages.”
Hamis Nguluma, another farmer who suffered a large loss due to pests last season says, “I have better hope for my farm this year, when the agro dealers came the last time, I bought some pesticides and have ordered some more for the next round, I believe I am well prepared now.”
Contributed by Rashid Mwakatuma, Business Advisor
Edited by Maureen Kwilasa, Program Coordinator, Pathways Tanzania