Round 2 of Water Management Construction Begins

The short rainy season is wrapping up in Tanzania, and the change of weather is reminder how pivotal a reliable water supply is to successful farming. The Bungu Project is about to kick off its second round of water management construction this project year, to increase the consistency of water access to Partners’ shambas (farm plots), as part of the Network-wide Water Management Initiative. This round of construction will focus on higher-up, hillside shambas, where irrigation is a constant challenge.

Before this project year, Partners, Project Coordinators and Ground Team identified two main water-related challenges with Bungu Partners’ shambas: seasonal flooding on the low, valley shambas and highly labor-intensive irrigation on the hillside shambas. Flood management construction having been completed in the past few months to tackle the first of these two problems, this second round of construction will focus on the hillside shambas to make irrigation more efficient.

Why is facilitating irrigation important? In Bungu, hillside shambas are not usually adjacent to a water source. And, as smallholder farmers that live on the cusp of the international poverty line, our Partners do all their farming work by hand, unable to afford mechanical inputs. On hillside shambas, they carry water, bucket by bucket or watering can by watering can, uphill to water their crops. Irrigating crops like this is at best exhausting and at worst prohibitive, preventing Partners from getting the most use out of these plots if they are unable to water the entire area regularly. The hillside water management plans, therefore, are able to increase revenue generating potential by allowing Partners to fully utilize the entire area of their shambas.

The basic idea for what to build to make irrigation easier is the following: a tank at the top of each hillside plot, with hoses that descend from the tank to water the crops. Water is delivered to the tank either by connecting a hose to a stream higher up, sometimes several hundred meters away, or by pumping water from below with a manual foot pump.

And the process for getting construction done involves a number of different parties and highlights the coordination involved within the Bungu Project and 2Seeds Network as a whole. First, each Partner identifies a need on his or her shamba for water management construction. Then Senior Project Coordinator and environmental engineer wunderkind Jen tours the shambas in question along with Partners, discussing the challenges with the Partners at each shamba, to develop a solution tailor made to each individual shamba. Next, Bungu Project advisor Miraji takes Jen’s drawn plans, hires contractors and procures the necessary construction inputs, i.e. sand, stone, aggregate and cement, to oversee the construction. And finally, if any materials cannot be delivered directly to the construction site because shambas are usually only accessible by foot, the Partners plan group work days to share the toil of carrying construction materials by hand (or more precisely, by head) from the road to the construction site. The cost of construction, negotiated and tallied by Miraji, will be covered both by donated project funds and the general fund, which covers Network-wide initiatives.

In an earlier blog post, I stressed that the major focus of this project year will be on production. This holds true for water management as well. Weather is a major unknown factor for farming, yet crops thrive with very specific amounts of water – not too much, not too little. Flooding and irrigation therefore present equally daunting threats to production. Too much water and the crops die. Too little water and the crops die. By addressing both flooding and drought, water management construction in Bungu is designed to reduce the risk of weather-related challenges in production. With the risk partially eliminated, production should become more consistent, increasing sales and profit among group members, which of course leads to the ultimate goal of the project: increasing food and income security in Bungu.

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Senior Project Coordinator Jen, Partner Kuruthumu and Advisor Miraji measure space for a water tank at the top of Kuruthumu’s hillside shamba

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Partner Eva and Advisor Miraji measuring Eva’s hillside shamba to see how much hose will be needed for irrigation

 

The Importance of Healthy Soil

Soil health is crucial to farming. Without healthy soil, crops can’t grow enough to generate good yields. In Bungu, a natural rainforest with streams regularly coursing through lush mountain valleys, farmers are fortunate enough to have access to fertile land – but this natural bounty has its limits. Virtually all the arable land in Bungu has been turned into farmland, and constant farming has taken its toll on the health of the soil.

Increasingly in recent years, the Bungu Project Partners have struggled with exhausted soil, and for smallholder farmers like our Partners the problem often becomes choosing the lesser of two evils: If you plant on exhausted soil, maybe you harvest a small amount and make a little money or maybe you harvest next to nothing and lose money; but if you don’t plant at all, you won’t lose any money on the cost of seed and other inputs, but you definitely won’t make any money either. Through August of this year, many Partners opted for the latter option – not planting and not risking losing money. But the lost planting opportunity meant that revenue for most Partners slowed significantly.

Faced with the compounded problem of exhausted soil and low revenue, in September we decided to invest in the project with an injection of high-quality organic fertilizer made from manure. Ground Team and the Project Coordinators decided that project funds would cover 85% of the cost of the fertilizer, and each partner subsequently put in his or her order for fertilizer to a third-party provider, submitted the costs to Ground Team, and was reimbursed for 85% of the total cost. The investment expense drawn from project funds totaled TZS 1,295,400 ($616.86) or just over TZS 100,000 for each of the Bungu Project’s 12 Partners on average. To put this figure in perspective, recall that one of the Bungu Project’s yearlong goals is for four of the 12 Partners to earn TZS 75,000 in revenue each month. Considering the money spent on this fertilizer is likely to be greater than most Partners’ monthly revenue, this investment represents a significant cash injection made possible by the Project’s donors.

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Nutrient-rich organic fertilizer for soil rehabilitation, purchased by Partners with a subsidy from Project funds

After the fertilizer was delivered in October, it spent most of the next two months sitting in piles on each Partner’s shamba (farm plot), usually protected from the elements by a layer of cut tree branches and leaves. The occasional weed would sprout up directly out of the heap, nourished by the nutrient-rich manure, which our Partners would pluck out. Meanwhile, the group was getting ready to plant in other ways. Flood barriers and water tanks, part of 2Seeds’s Network-wide Water Management Initiative, were still under construction at a number of shambas. And we were still developing our crop rotation plan, and waiting for sections of each shamba to become available for planting.

Finally, after several patient months, the fertilizer was ready to be used. About a week before planting, each Partner prepared beds for the seeds, evening out the soil and clearing weeds, and mixed some fertilizer with the soil in each bed to allow the nutrients to incorporate into the soil. When each Partner planted in early December, he or she carefully placed the seeds in the prepared beds and covered them with more soil and more fertilizer. And they were off.

It’s been exciting to see our Partners plant this month, the first time since I’ve been in Bungu. And it’s especially exciting that this time they’re planting with high-quality fertilizer that promises to replenish the soil and produce good yields. But it’s also important to remember that soil health cannot be taken for granted. After March 2016, there will no longer be any Project Coordinators in Bungu to provide large investments like organic fertilizer. Moving forward, it will be important for the Partners to hold each other accountable for their crop rotation plans, which will help prevent soil exhaustion, and for their savings deposits, which they’ll be able to dip into for big investments, like high-quality fertilizer. And instead of relying on Bungu’s natural bounty, our Partners will be able to produce their own hard-earned bounty on the way to greater income security.

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Planting Group Number 2 sowing green peppers on December 9, topping the seeds with organic fertilizer (the pile in the top left edge of the picture)

Mid-Year Investor Report

To Investors and Stakeholders in the Bungu Project,

Since arrival in August, Antal and 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.

Antal has prepared a Mid-Year Investor Report to capture the progress  made so far in the first half of his time working on the Bungu 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.

Bungu 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

Project-Year Goals

I’d like to use this blog post to lay out the goals for this project year, which were established by the 2Seeds Ground Team, as the Bungu Project transitions to a self-sustaining business. Now that I’ve been in Bungu for about two months, I’m better able to put these goals into perspective, in terms of both the work that has been done and the work that is still ahead of us.

Revenue and profit

Let’s start with sales. The goal is for monthly group revenue (the 12-member total) to consistently exceed TZS 500,000 and monthly profit TZS 250,000. The current exchange rate is about TZS 2,200 per USD, so that’s about $230 in revenue and $115 in profit. (That rate can fluctuate quite a bit, though, so from here I’ll discuss values in Tanzanian shillings.)

How feasible is this goal? To give some perspective, in the past two years, the group has met this revenue figure in four different moths and the profit figure in 11 different months. In all the other months, production or marketing troubles have kept revenue and profit low. The marketing component has now largely been figured out, but production shortcomings have continued to lead revenue and profit to flounder. Flooding, pests, cold, and overworked soil has have kept the group from reaching full production capacity.

Consequently, ensuring consistent production has become a major focus of this project year. To start, to reduce the risk of flood damage, we are in the process of building flood barriers and clearing deeper irrigation ditches at a number of at-risk farm plots. Second, we’ve also put a two-to-three month hiatus on planting (September to November, roughly) to lay down high-quality organic fertilizer to rehabilitate the soil. Last, we are developing a crop rotation strategy to control pests, help plan planting area according to weather, and keep the soil healthy. (Keep following the blog for updates on these initiatives!)

Once the entire group begins full-fledged planting again in November and December, they’ll be slated to harvest in early spring 2016 when we expect revenue and profit to hit these goals.

Group savings

Like every 2Seeds projects, the Bungu Project has a group savings component. The purpose of building a group savings plan has been to allow the group to access capital to use on any unforeseen or big-ticket expenses. In places like Bungu – i.e. rural and poor – there is very little access to formal financial services. The closest bank is a two- or three-hour bus ride away in Korogwe, and many people don’t have enough cash to open an individual savings account. After building up a group savings, about a year ago the group officially opened its own group bank account at the Korogwe branch of CRDB bank.

The Project’s group savings goal is to keep the balance of this account above TZS 1.5 million, and to generate monthly deposits of TZS 50,000. The current balance is over TZS 1.8 million at the moment, meaning we’re ahead of the game in this field. As far as deposits, the group has decided to pause deposits during these few months that they are not planting. No planting leads to no harvesting, which leads to no sales. And no sales revenue makes it hard to deposit cash. As with the revenue and profit goals, the savings goal hinges on solid crop production. All roads lead back to production.

Impact and qualitative goals

The impact goal aims to put a solid figure on the impact of 2Seeds’s work in Bungu. The goal is for four of the 12 group members to take home TZS 75,000 per month from group activities. TZS 75,000 equates to about $1.25 per day, the figure widely cited as the international poverty line. All group members have some revenue-generating activity outside of 2Seeds (poor farmers are very risk-averse, choosing not to put all their eggs in one basket). Therefore, if they’re generating at least $1.25 per day just from 2Seeds, the thinking goes, they are certainly clearing the international poverty line across all income streams by a healthy margin.

But why four members and not all 12 members every month? Exposed to weather, pests and fluctuating markets, farming in the developing world is still risky business. Despite everyone’s best efforts, something will always go wrong for someone. The four-person goal is simply an effort at being realistic.

Other, non-quantitative goals include the personnel goal, to empower the group to take over fully running every aspect of the business after the Project Coordinator exit, and the goal to create a long-term strategy for expansion. As these goals are less tangible and less urgent, there is less of direct action plan. The reality that the group will shortly be without an on-the-ground Project Coordinator is very present in the group’s discussions, however, and with every new task to be completed there is an overall air of encouragement that one or more group members, rather than the PC, step up to the plate.

Focus on production

So much of the group’s operations are already functioning. The savings system is in place and healthy; the members have a great rapport; they work well together and quickly find solutions to get past any disagreements; they’re all experience farmers that know how to plant the vegetables produced. The weak link right now is consistent production, i.e. making sure that everything gets done to harvest marketable crops every month. Finding a way to ensure consistent crop production will be one of the major focal points of this project year. Once this piece is solidified, much of the rest of the challenges, including revenue, profit, savings contributions and group self-management, should fall in place.

We live here. They live there

We are living in sub-Saharan Africa in a tiny cottage without running water and power. It’s a bit different from what we’re used to, but we do have cement floors and walls and even glass windows.

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Although our living conditions are modest by any standard, the difference between how we live and our partners live is significant. One of the farmers we partner with lives across the nearest foot path “next door” in a one-room mud structure.

Although we don’t have detailed information on the overall income of our partners, we have a general understanding of their poverty level. They are not the poorest of the poor, meaning they aren’t in severe consistent discomfort, facing a high risk of an early death from malnutrition, disease or other ailments. However, they do have difficulty satisfying some or many of a human beings’ basic requirements like permanent shelter and rudimentary medical care, and they have little to no hope of improving their situation.

The poor can be “trapped” in poverty for a variety of reasons. Generally, regardless of where they live, in Tanzania or another low income country, they often make money through creating and running several different small businesses. In the Bungu project, one of our partners, for example, farms and has a cow whose milk she sells. Another farms and sells fish on the side.

Although the poor are entrepreneurial by necessity, they face serious obstacles to growing their businesses on their own: They have the same businesses as everyone else – farming and fish sales are both common activities – so there is too much supply driving down prices, cutting profits; they have difficulty specializing in their business because they are doing so many things at once; there’s also significant evidence that the stress the poor are under inhibits strategic thinking: It’s tough to think business strategy when you’re consumed with ensuring your kids have enough food for the day.

Through our work at 2Seeds, we’re creating a business that corrects some of these issues. We allow our partners to pool together and develop their farming knowledge and business acumen to “specialize in the business”. We also are working to sell in markets with a little less competition to get better prices and out compete other businesses. We’re helping our partners make more money so that they can purchase their own cement floors and glass windows. It’s difficult, and we’re constantly thinking about better ways to help them and others escape from poverty, but the goal is incredibly important.

Bungu to Transition to Business in 2015-16 Project Year

Welcome to the Bungu 2015-16 project year! After five years of on-the-ground Project Coordinators, the Bungu Project is scheduled to become a self-sufficient business by the end of this term. As the fifth and final set of PCs in Bungu, Billy and I (Antal) are excited we get to make this send-off.

For those of you who don’t know us yet, I’d like to give a quick introduction to the Bungu Project Coordinator (PC) team. My name is Antal Neville, and I’m joining 2Seeds Network and the Bungu Project after three years with IBISWorld, a New York-based industry research company. My teammate Billy Beaver has worked in international communications for most of his career while also being a passionate supporter of effective, evidence-based international development. After big city desk jobs, we each decided to devote some time working to improve the lives of others and were attracted to 2Seeds because of its unique approach to tackling extreme poverty.

There have been a lot of mentions in this blog and on Bungu’s social media pages about transforming the Bungu project into a self-sustaining business. In this blog post I wanted to outline what exactly that transition will look like.

As many of you know, the Bungu Project is a group of 12 farmers that each grow onions, green bell peppers and cucumbers in order to pool their harvests and sell them collectively. Seeds are procured from the same source to ensure uniformity, and sales are done as a group to give all members greater market access by allowing them to sell to high-volume buyers, mostly in the local central town of Korogwe.

To make sure non-farming activities like weekly meetings, bookkeeping and sales coordination run smoothly, over the years the group has appointed several different individual members to take charge of different tasks. These include Chairperson Raymond, Treasurer Kuruthumu, Sales Coordinator Hamisi, and Organic Coordinator Mngoma, to name a few. The group also has an established planting calendar designed to ensure regular harvests of all three vegetables and guarantee group sales to larger-scale buyers.

While all the pieces are roughly in place for the group to function as a business, the group still requires some outside support. Working with the 2Seeds Ground Team, we plan to focus on two areas to strengthen the group enough for it to run on its own: 1) stabilizing and increasing crop production, which has been extremely volatile and 2) creating simple, effective processes that the business can use to run smoothly and grow on its own.

Though our impression so far is that there is a lot of work to do to do because of the current state of the project, we do think that turning Bungu into a business before we leave is possible and relish the challenge. It should be a fun year, and we can’t wait to share it with you.

Take a look at some pictures from our first two weeks below, and follow us on social media pages (#BunguBusiness) to stay caught up on day-to-day happenings. Talk to you soon!

-Antal

Billy and Project Partner Sadiki, showing us his field of recently planted green bell peppers

Billy with Project Partner Sadiki, showing us his field of recently planted green bell peppers

Project Partner and Organic Coordinator Mngoma, whose farm plot is in the valley behind him

Project Partner and Organic Coordinator Mngoma, whose farm plot is in the valley behind him

Project Partner Elder Johnny and his grandson David showing us proper vegetable harvesting technique.

Project Partner Johnny and his grandson David showing us proper cucumber harvesting technique

Project Partner Aziza (right) showing Partner Hamisi and me the plot where she plans to plant organic 2Seeds vegetables

Project Partner Aziza (right) showing Partner Hamisi and me the plot where she plans to plant organic 2Seeds vegetables

Bungu Partners and Advisors showing Billy and me a warm welcome on our first day in Bungu

Bungu Partners and Advisors showing Billy and me a warm welcome on our first day in Bungu

Year-End Investor Report 2014-2015

Dear investors and stakeholders,

As another year comes to a close for our Project Coordinators, we would like to take the time to review how your contribution helped make a difference in this year. Please download the document below for detailed information about the exciting developments from the past year.

Bungu Project 2014-2015 Year-End Investor Report

If you are inspired by our work, please consider renewing your commitment to 2Seeds. Your donations and continued support are what makes this life-changing work possible.

Wishing you the best from Tanzania,

2Seeds Network Ground Team