PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania — In the highlands of Iringa, Tanzania, where clay paths snake down slopes and banana trees puncture through the earth, rests the village of Ipalamwa. Though the village’s shortage of adequate medical care and nourishment demonstrates the residents’ battle with poverty, Ipalamwa has seen improvements over the past several years. In an interview with The Borgen Project, Dr. Thomas Murphy, a member of a volunteer organization called Global Volunteers, recounts his time in the village and the progress he witnessed. This progress mirrors the recent achievements made by Tanzanian farmers in other parts of the Iringa district.
Education’s Role in Poverty Reduction
The philosophy of the Global Volunteers organization is to ask the community where help is needed as opposed to dictating the work volunteers should do. Throughout Murphy’s time in Ipalamwa, he worked with residents to achieve poverty reduction goals, following the direction of the Ipalamwan people. Upon Murphy’s arrival in late July 2018, one of his main responsibilities was teaching alongside the village’s upper school teachers. They discussed subjects such as math, physics, biology, geology and geography with the students and delved into plate tectonics and magnetism. According to Murphy, “education is the panacea” and is directly linked to poverty reduction.
Innovations in Agriculture
One of the first observations Murphy made once arriving in Ipalamwa was the dedication of the residents to their occupations, which took the form of farming for many individuals. To maximize harvest yields and introduce additional farming practices, another one of Murphy’s responsibilities involved constructing vegetable boxes, or what he described as “three-foot by one and a half foot rectangular boxes containing soil and seedlings.” Global Volunteers would demonstrate to a family how to set up their initial box, thereby providing the knowledge of how to build subsequent boxes. Moreover, given that the producers manufactured the boxes uniformly, individuals gained the experience to assist their neighbors in constructing boxes as well. Through these vegetable boxes, Ipalamwa residents increased their supply of produce.
At the conclusion of his time in Ipalamwa, Murphy left feeling impressed by Ipalamwa’s dedication to education. Whether it was someone with the determination to learn a new farming method or a student engaged in a classroom discussion, he saw the village’s poverty reducing through education.
How a Fruit Can Feed Thousands
Miles down from the highlands of Ipalamwa, other areas in Iringa also endure poverty. With the coronavirus pandemic only exacerbating levels of hunger, households that depend on self-employment experienced the most severe impacts of the COVID-19 crisis. As with Ipalamwa, agriculture dominates the Iringa region’s economy and “employs about 73% of economically active people.” However, because of the region’s economic slowdown, many farmers received less business in 2020 than in past years. Yet, even with these recent hurdles, the road to reducing poverty in Tanzania does not look bleak. The key to fighting hunger in Tanzania may come down to green, creamy, pitted fruits: avocados.
History of Avocados in Tanzania
Grown in the various regions of Tanzania, including the Iringa region, avocados yield at least $12 million a year for Tanzania. Moreover, from 2014 to 2019, the value of Tanzanian avocado exports increased eightfold, which also “strengthened Tanzania’s market share from 0.1% to 0.4%.” Despite these numbers, the avocado market in Tanzania has not reached its full potential. However, Tanzanian Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa recently announced that Tanzania is negotiating to export avocados to South Africa, which has the potential to “free Tanzanians from abject poverty.”
A Deal in the Making
The South African avocado season occurs from “mid-February to late October.” For the rest of the year, South Africa imports avocados from Spain. However, if South Africa were to import avocados from Tanzania, the price of avocados for consumers would decrease. But, this deal would produce positive results for Tanzania as well. According to Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa, after the negotiations between the countries conclude, Tanzanian farmers will “benefit in the same way their South African counterparts benefit with the importation of apples that are saturated in the Tanzanian market.” In other words, expanding avocado exports has the potential to increase profits for farmers across Tanzania.
Education Proves Essential Again
In the past, Tanzania has not lived up to its potential when it comes to the avocado market. According to Daud Mbongo, a researcher at the Tanzania Agriculture Research Institute, farmers have not always honored their contracts to companies and instead have sold produce to “other companies or individuals citing looming financial and family problems.” However, in the same way that education reduced poverty in Ipalamwa, Mbongo announced that the Tanzania Agriculture Research Institute would educate Tanzanians through the Dar es Salaam International Trade Fair (DITF), radio and television programs, social media and Nane Nane (a day that celebrates Tanzanian farmers’ contributions) in order to “ensure more regions engage in the crop production.”
Obstacles and Looking Forward
While in the ideal scenario, Tanzanian avocados would hit the shelves of consumers in South Africa by December, there are some obstacles the countries need to navigate before this can occur. According to Derek Donkin, the CEO of the South African Avocado Growers’ Association, Tanzania cannot ship avocados to South Africa yet because of an incomplete “phytosanitary agreement” — an agreement on how to control pests and diseases. Fuerte avocados, one variety of avocados grown in Tanzania, are susceptible to pests such as scale insects and fruit flies, which the Tanzanian government will need to eliminate before exporting to South Africa. Fortunately, Hass avocados, another variety grown in Tanzania, are less vulnerable to disease and can produce 230 to 320 kilograms of avocados per tree in a given season.
Though the countries might not reach a negotiation by the end of 2021, in the coming year, Tanzanian farmers may see decreased levels of poverty through avocado farming.
– Madeline Murphy