Karibuni Bungu!

Early in October, Whitney and I were lucky enough to be one the first teams to welcome (karibuni = welcome) other project coordinators (PCs) to our home. Throughout the year, there is a rotating schedule of project site visits that give all of the PCs the chance to see the other project villages. Bungu was first on the schedule to host, so three other PC teams (Bombo Majimoto, Kwakiliga and Tabora) showed up that Friday morning to get a feel for mountain living.

First on the agenda for the weekend was a tour of some of our partners’ more easily accessible shambas. When planning the visit, Whitney and I wanted to make quality time with the partners the centerpiece of the schedule. As cliché as it may sound, our partners are what make Bungu special (not that we don’t love the mountain vistas) and we really wanted to share that with our fellow PCs. Tanzanians love visitors and the partners were tickled to have the chance to show off their shambas.

The whole crew at Mzee Johnny's  farm

The whole crew at Mzee Johnny’s farm

After the shambas, we all headed back to our project offices for a lunch of ugali and some time to relax and get to know one another. Because the partners most often interact with us and with each other in structured settings (meetings, crop-loadings, trainings, etc.), having a chance to all hang out in an informal environment is a treat.

Project Coordinators listening to Mzee Mwambo

Project Coordinators listening to Mzee Mwambo

That evening, after some time for a relaxed discussion about overcoming challenges in our project sites, we were able to share another little piece of our life with our guests. Three of the mamas in our neighborhood, with whom we are quite close, cooked a giant meal for everyone and we, along with all three families spent a great evening eating together. The next morning, we capped off the visit with a hike to Ngulu, which boasts (in my opinion), the best view in Bungu.

View from Ngulu

View from Ngulu

Though short, the PCs’ visit was a wonderful opportunity to show off our work and life here in Bungu. Each project within the 2Seeds Network is incredibly different, and the only way to truly get a sense of them is by seeing it in action. We’re already excited to host the other teams next February, but until then, we get to look forward to seeing some other villages ourselves!

Until next time,

Grace

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Makin’ Bank

One very important aspect of the Bungu project that we haven’t touched on thus far is that Bungu is one of three projects in the 2Seeds Network that is on-track to transition from a project to a business in the coming years. This essentially means that within a few years, we hope that Project Coordinators will no longer be needed in Bungu, and that the partners will be able to run the group’s activities with less direct intervention from 2Seeds. Having this goal in the back of our minds is already beginning to influence many of the decisions we’re making about how to move forward.

Part of the reason Bungu was put on this path is that the group has an incredibly strong financial system in place. This is largely due to the work of last year’s Project Coordinators, Mitch and Cam. When the boys arrived in 2013, the partners had a large amount of outstanding debt from previous 2Seeds loans for agricultural inputs. Seeing this as the largest challenge facing the project, Cam and Mitch put in place a strict repayment schedule and matching program. By May of 2014, all of the partners were not only 100% debt-free, but they had established both individual savings funds and a group savings fund!

When Whitney and I arrived in August, the savings fund had been growing all summer and it was time for it to have a safer home. As you may remember from our Q1 goals, we were aiming to open a group bank account by the end of October. We are thrilled to announce that on October 15, the group members succeeded in that goal and our group savings account is official!

Whitney and I with all four signatories! (Raymond, Sadiki, Aziza, Kuruthumu)

Whitney and I with all four signatories! (Raymond, Sadiki, Aziza, Kuruthumu)

Because we were opening a group account to which multiple people would have access, the procedure was a bit complex. First, the Bungu Project had to be recognized as a legitimate group by both the village of Bungu and the district of Korogwe, a process which involved a lot of papers, stamps and signatures. Once all of our paper work was in order, we, along with the four partners that were chosen to be account signatories, loaded onto the bus to Korogwe. After about three hours at the bank and a monumental number of forms, thumb-prints and passport pictures, we were able to make our first official deposit!

Aziza and Raymond sign one of many bank forms

Aziza and Raymond sign one of many bank forms

As of right now, the group savings fund has a total of TZS 1,290,000, which is equivalent to about $815! As we move along the road towards becoming a business, this fund will be an invaluable resource for the partners. Stay tuned for updates as we start to find ways to effectively use this treasure trove!

Best,

Grace

Small Victories

As anyone in the development sphere knows, doing in-country work is a painstaking endeavor, one that can take its toll on the heart as well as the mind. Because 2Seeds is all too familiar with this struggle, we keep ourselves energized and uplifted by intentionally focusing on what are known as small victories. Small victories can be simple activities such as learning how to cook a new dish, making a new Tanzanian friend, or having a solid workout. Small victories can also be little joys that pop up throughout our professional endeavors, such as devising a more intuitive record keeping system, having a good weekly harvest, or witnessing a once timid group member become a leader. The first time Grace and I really appreciated the significance of these small victories was just a couple weeks after we arrived.

We had scheduled our first meeting with our group advisors, Mzee Mwambo and Miraji, and were preparing diligently for this encounter. These two individuals stand separate from our farmers group and provide an independent, critical eye with which to assess our partners’ activities. Grace and I invited them to our house for a meeting, as we wanted to get their take on several aspects of the Bungu Project. Our Swahili was still tenuous, so we prepared questions for them beforehand to ensure we could communicate effectively. These questions centered on issues such as ensuring consistent crop supply, the current planting calendar, group comfort levels and competencies regarding organic agriculture, and strengthening/devising new leadership roles. Our questions were organized and well thought out, and we had translated each of them from English to Swahili that morning. Now, if only we could ask the questions AS WELL as understand the answers given during the meeting, then we’d really be in business.

As Mzee Mwambo and Miraji arrived to our home around 3:30 p.m., we greeted them with chai and maandazi. It’s something every household greets you with in Tanzania, and we certainly didn’t want to seem out of step with our community. As we all tucked in to our first cup of chai, the meeting was started and questions and answers began flying. I understood about every fifth word spoken and Grace about every third. We asked the advisors to repeat themselves far less than we expected, and halfway into the second topic of discussion, we realized we were understanding pretty much everything that was going on. Mind you, we didn’t understand every word, but context clues and a great deal of inference lead us to be on the same page with the Mzee and Miraji. After 45 minutes of conversation, we closed our notebooks, thanked the advisors, and said our goodbyes from the meeting. Grace and I walked inside our house, fairly quiet for the first few minutes, then we exchanged some self-congratulatory comments and began to let it sink in that we just held a productive meeting entirely in Swahili. We then frantically took notes to organize our thoughts regarding everything that was said and began to formulate a plan to take that information from words to actions. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the epitome of a small victory. We’ve hadn’t been in Tanzania long, yet we successfully held a meeting in Swahili and didn’t leave feeling defeated. In fact, we left feeling victorious. We left feeling like we might actually be able to do this job, to be successful, to be effective. Our meeting was definitely a small victory in title but a huge step forward in our work in Bungu.

-Whitney

Visiting the Shambas

An integral part of our weekly routine (and the part I most look forward to) is our scheduled visits to each of the shambas (farm plots) of our partners. We have twelve partners, each with shambas spread all throughout the Bungu Ward. Whitney and I visit each shamba regularly, giving us a chance to check-in with individual group members. Each shamba is unique, but they are all incredibly beautiful. Nestled between hills and streams, the small, manicured plots are an idyllic place to spend a few hours getting our hands dirty.

The shamba visits serve a couple different purposes. The first is to keep us informed. We make decisions regarding the planting calendar with our partners so it’s important for us to understand how that calendar plays out. For example, while we know that in theory that the partners should be planting their designated crops in the first week of each month, seeing how quickly those crops grow, how much attention they need at different stages and when they are ready for harvest allows us to get a much fuller sense of the production process.

It’s also incredibly motivating for the partners to have us come see their work. They take great pride in their shambas and are always excited to show us what new improvements they have made or how well their crops are growing. Conversely, if they are having any sort of challenges, the visits allow us to see specifically what is happening, and try to find a solution. And, of course, if a shamba isn’t being cultivated as well as it could be, a couple of inquiring questions can help nudge the partners back on track.

Though the combination of steep slopes and consistent rain can make our treks treacherous at times, doing a little manual labor with our partners is one of the most rewarding times of the week. There’s nothing like working with your hands together to show solidarity and strengthen relationships.

– Grace

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Q1 Goals: August 2014 – October 2014

Each year throughout the 2Seeds Network, Project Coordinators are tasked with setting quarterly goals. These goals help PCs stay focused on advancing the most pressing needs of their group members, as well as allow friends, family, and investors to follow the paths being forged within the projects. Goals are broken up into four different quarters; the first quarter lasts from the first of August until the end of October. The following are the Bungu Project’s Q1 goals.

1. Open an official bank account for group savings.

Over the last year, the Bungu Project’s partners have done an exceptional job growing their group savings. Each month, members pay 5,000 shilingi into what is known as the “akiba,” allowing their collective assets to grow ever stronger. Under the guidance of last year’s Project Coordinators, the akiba grew by leaps and bounds, and as of right now, the partners have accrued over 1,000,000 shilingi! Opening an official bank account is a natural next step, one that will take a great deal of time and patience as we work within the bounds of a sometimes confusing banking structure. Not only will this account legitimize and protect the group savings, but it will also shine as a symbol of progress, progress that has been made toward attaining greater flexibility, opportunity, and resilience for the Bungu Project.

2. Ensure each partner earns 50,000 shilingi from group sales.

On a weekly basis, our partners in Bungu fulfill crop orders for buyers in Korogwe and Dar es Salaam. These are exciting sales opportunities that allow group members not only to reach new markets but also to grow their personal finances. The overall numbers of the group sales in these markets have appeared strong throughout the last year, but now it’s time to focus on making sure each partner is living up to their full earning potential. During Q1, we will work with our partners to foster more consistent planting and harvesting as well as assist the members with agricultural trainings, crop grading, time management, and group leadership and organization. As we focus on these areas, the hope is that the partners will feel confident in taking the initiative to maintain a consistent supply to buyers as well as a consistent cash flow into their pockets.

3. Cultivate leadership roles through empowerment training.

Bungu is fortunate to have a group of incredibly ambitious, hard-working partners. Four of these partners have been appointed to positions of leadership throughout the years, and to ensure these leaders keep moving forward, we want to see that they are given the proper tools and encouragement to grow personally and professionally. In order to foster this growth, we will hold several formal, as well as informal, meetings with group leaders. During these meetings, not only will we begin a constructive dialogue, delving deeper into leadership strengths and weaknesses, but we will also use these meetings as a time to grow personal relationships with and among group leadership. As relationships and skill sets are advanced, the Bungu Project as a whole will be driven to new heights by the strength of it’s leadership structure.

4. Develop plan for implementation of organic agriculture.

Organic agriculture has a promising market throughout Tanzania, especially in ex-pat communities in Dar es Salaam. Organic agriculture can also reduce production costs for the partners. Commercial inputs are a huge drain on finances, and many organic inputs can either be found in native vegetation or purchased inexpensively. By the end of Q1, we will have developed an action plan for implementation of organic farming practices throughout the project. This plan will be developed in concert with Bungu’s partners and advisors, the Ground Team Staff, as well with the area’s agricultural extension officer, Martin. Leading up to this transition, Martin will host a series of organic best practices refresher trainings with the partners, as well as assist with organic zucchini test plots. We are excited for the challenges and opportunities that the transition to organic will bring, and with organic crops fetching more than double the price at market, there is promise that this switch from traditional to organic farming will put our partners in a solid position to advance toward greater income security.

Stay tuned for updates on how these goals are progressing!

-Whitney

Introduction to 2Seeds

Our first couple of weeks in Tanzania where a whirlwind. Orientation lasted about two weeks, split between the city of Dar es Salaam, the beautiful beach town of Pangani and finally Korogwe, our on-the-ground headquarters. The days were exciting but long, filled with teambuilding activities, Swahili lessons and project management trainings.

Before I delve into details on our new life, I’ll give a brief overview of how 2Seeds operates on the ground. There are 8 village-based teams, each made up of two Project Coordinators. All of the projects are supported by the Ground Team, which consists of our Country Director, Ana, and our two Senior Project Coordinators (SPCs), Hailey and Cam. Both Hailey and Cam were Project Coordinators last year and are now continuing on with 2Seeds as SPCs.

In the villages, the 2Seeds group members are called Project Partners. In Bungu, we work with a group of 12 farmers, both men and women, and we also have the wisdom of two advisors in the village, Miraji and Mzee Mwambo. Both of our advisors are well-educated and speak English. They will be an invaluable resource as we acclimate, helping us make decisions and navigate group dynamics.

We are quickly getting to know our Project Partners. On one of our last nights of orientation, the Ground Team hosted a send-off dinner in Korogwe and surprised us with the attendance of many of the partners! Both the chairman (Raymond) and the treasurer (Kuruthumu) of the Bungu Project were present; it was a wonderful opportunity to get a glimpse of the group.

We finally departed for Bungu on August 23rd. After an intensive orientation, we were more than ready to get to our site and start our new life! When we got to our beautiful new home in the neighborhood of Shwagara, we were received by all of our partners who had not only come to greet us but brought us a phenomenal meal of taro root, chapati (fried pancake), and chai (spiced, sweet tea).

10648460_10152382913648589_5435789489857097025_oAll of our project partners together for dinner

We’re adjusting to our Tanzanian life quite rapidly. We did our laundry for the first time soon after our arrival, albeit poorly (I’m sure all the Mamas at the stream felt sorry for us!), and there always seems to be a gaggle of children on our porch (We have an adorable porch swing). Stay tuned for updates as we attempt to carry water, wear kangas and cook ugali!

DSC_0021Our beautiful house!

DSC_0015The first laundry line

– Grace

Meet Grace and Whitney

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Grace Bradshaw
Project Coordinator

Grace Bradshaw was born and raised in Syracuse, NY where she developed a love of the outdoors early on. Growing up, she enjoyed running, skiing and horseback riding, passions that continue today. She graduated from Cornell University in May 2014 with a B.S. in Applied Economics and Management. Grace’s interest in international development began through a service trip to El Salvador in high school and she carried that interest through college with a concentration in International Trade and Development. Grace is thrilled to spend her first year out of college working with the 2Seeds Network. She is thankful for the incredible opportunity to be immersed in a new culture and hopes to make an impact in Bungu during her time there.

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Whitney Flatt

Project Coordinator

Whitney is a native of Newbern, Tennessee, a rural farming town just north of Memphis. She received her Bachelor of Science in International Relations from Middle Tennessee State University in 2014, with her studies focusing primarily on famine and international agricultural development. During her undergraduate career, Whitney spent time in Czech Republic and Israel, studying Eastern European and Middle Eastern politics, respectively. However, it was on a service-learning trip to Honduras in 2012 where she first became interested in issues surrounding food security. After experiencing the strong, youth-centered agricultural initiatives being undertaken in the community where she volunteered, Whitney was energized and inspired to learn more about farming and international development. She returned to the U.S. with a clear focus for her future and began pursuing a minor in agriculture, studying everything she could about food security and working at her university’s organic farm. She went on to intern for the Global Food Security Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. There she contributed research to the report The Role of GMOs for Food Security in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. Whitney is excited about the opportunity to spend a year as a 2Seeds Project Coordinator for The Bungu Project. She is looking forward to forging deep, meaningful connections with the people in her village and is eager to work side-by-side with her partners, experiencing the challenges and triumphs that come with rural Tanzanian life.

Year-End Investor Report

To investors and stakeholders in the Bungu Project,

As their term drew to a close in late June and early July, Mitchell and Cameron put their heads together and prepared a year-end investor report.

Bungu Project Year-End Investor Report, July 2014

Accountability and transparency are priorities for Project Coordinators and for 2Seeds Network as an organization, as is showcasing success. Take a good look at this document because it’s full of great info and insight.

Please do not hesitate to reach out to Mitchell and Cameron, or us, with any questions thoughts.

From the 2Seeds Ground Team

Ana, Colleen, & Marc

Money Management

Now that the farmers’ group is officially DEBT FREE, there have been some big changes to our financial management system.

As you may recall, the “three key” system we created in September 2013 was specifically designed to drive down outstanding debt while simultaneously enabling our members to acquire agricultural inputs through microloans. It was a loan repayment scheme, specifically, and it more than served its purpose. Now that the debt is gone, we’d like to keep it that way.

We turned to the group members to listen to their ideas. Loans are a thing of the past for the Bungu partners; they would like to manage their own inputs with their own money. The group members want to buy the inputs they need without having to meet difficult repayment expectations. And finally, they recognize the importance of savings, both individually and for the group as a collective business.

Keeping these wishes in mind, we set to work with the partners to design a new financial management plan that is specifically tailored to the unique needs of this community. We’d like to share with you the fruits of our labor today…

To promote the financial independence of the partners, each member has an individual account as a part of their participation in the 2Seeds Bungu farmers’ group. The individual accounts are a form of personal savings that ensures the money they have set aside helps drive their own agriculture business. The money in a member’s individual account is used to easily buy agricultural inputs for group affairs. Nothing else.

Every week, group members are able to make deposits of any size into their account. If a member can only put in TZS 1,000, that’s great! But if a member has a big sale one week and wants to keep the money in a safe place, bigger deposits are always welcome. We recognize that cashflow varies and wanted to build flexibility into this system. Bungu’s partners have learned all about the importance of proper financial management and can make decisions for themselves about the appropriate use of their hard-earned money.

However, to prevent the complete depletion of their personal funds, members are not permitted access to their account until they have deposited TZS 5,000 (about USD $3.00) in any given month. In the last meeting of the month, members that have dedicated at least TZS 5,000 to their business are able to use their account to buy seeds, fertilizer, and more. It is easy for members to make frequent small deposits which then turn around and become spendable! As we tell our members, money dedicated to your business is money that produces more money. The individual group accounts utilize a practical system that applies basic business concepts and instills responsible spending habits.

In addition to the individual accounts, we have also implemented a single group savings account (called the “akiba”). In the first meeting of every month, members contribute TZS 5,000 to the akiba. This is a reasonable amount of money, but these contributions only happen once a month, so members have the entire month to plan and prepare. If a member is unable to make this contribution, the money is deducted from their personal account so the akiba can continue to grow quickly (TZS 60,000 per month!). This group savings has the potential to become an enormous sum for our partners.

The next steps for our members include opening a bank account to ensure the safety of their money and deciding what they would like to buy with their savings! Could it be large-scale shamba investments like drip-irrigation water tanks? Could it be the 2Seeds truck of our dreams? Or could it be a year’s supply of chai and maandazi?! Only time will tell, but we know our partners are in control, and that is enough for now.

Planting Calendar #6

Another three months have passed, signaling the time to begin planning a new group planting calendar. This calendar, the sixth of its kind since the group started coordinating their efforts, is particularly meaningful, as it will bridge the time between our departure and the arrival of the new PCs.

After some thoughtful discussion, the group settled on a calendar that includes zucchini, onion, cucumber, and green pepper. You may notice that broccoli has been dropped from the rotation, and has been replaced with green pepper. It wasn’t an easy decision, but the group members were unified in their belief that now is the time for them to more intentionally plant and cultivate green pepper as a group. The Bungu Project was founded with the mission of helping farmers to make better-informed decisions to improve their own livelihoods, and it’s wonderful to see them put that into practice.

As per usual, the calendar comprises a monthly crop rotation, helping to ensure that the group is able to harvest and sell a combination of crops, as opposed to one crop at a time. The rotation for the months of July, August, and September are as follows:

July 2014 August 2014 September 2014
Subgroup 1 – Zucchini Subgroup 1 – Onion and Cucumber Subgroup 1 – Green Pepper
Subgroup 2 – Green Pepper Subgroup 2 – Zucchini Subgroup 2 – Onion and Cucumber
Subgroup 3 – Onion and Cucumber Subgroup 3 – Green Pepper Subgroup 3 – Zucchini

As we begin to plan our departure from Bungu, decisions such as this new planting calendar remind us of how far the group has come in the last ten months. As the group continues its journey toward a better life, it is increasingly the group members themselves who are leading the charge, and we couldn’t be happier to help them on their way.