When we think of deserts, we think of dry places with sand, cacti, thorny bushes, and snakes. We think of the image below. We typically don’t think of producing much in the way of fruit and vegetables. A few weeks ago we visited a desert outside of Moshi. However, this desert is different than the way we perceive deserts. As the pastor that accompanied us said, “this is a productive desert.”
We went to visit this land because Building a Caring Community (BCC) is toying with the idea of making one of the caregiver’s social businesses a farming cooperative. This land is owned by the Lutheran Church in the village that surrounds it. The church knows about BCC and they are willing to give the land to BCC for a nominal charge.
If a caregiver group utilizes this opportunity they could farm the land and sell the produce to the community and to BCC. Currently BCC purchases food to prepare two meals a day, porridge in the morning and lunch in the afternoon. BCC serves meals to 98 children and about 30 staff members each day, which means a decent sum of money is spent on food. Should a group of caregivers embrace the idea of a farm cooperative, the caregivers would produce the food and be able to sell BCC most of the necessary food. This would give a group of caregivers an income, and would give BCC money if profit is generated.
Why would BCC get the profit? We will explain more about social businesses later, but in short, social businesses are run like regular businesses except for the fact that the profit is given to a social cause. In this case, the caregivers would be given small loans by BCC to start their farm cooperative. The farm cooperative would be their business. They would then operate their farm as they wish and sell their goods to BCC and to the community. They would set their own wages and would receive that amount from BCC each month. If the farm cooperative generates a profit, it would go back to the BCC day center.
By using this business model the caregivers are given an income and BCC becomes sustainable. The sustainability aspect is a major focus for the new three year strategic plan that BCC created shortly after our arrival. The social businesses are a key piece of sustainability. Not only will dependency on funding from Mosaic and IMPACT decrease, but the community will improve economically and parents will be able to give back to the program (there is no charge for the day center or in-home support services).
Returning back to the farm, you will see a photo of a lush green landscape below. Would you believe that this is the same piece of land from the photo above? We could not believe that this perceived desert would support a farm. There is a series of rivers and fjords that were interlaid over the land. The land has a large water supply close by and the water table is fairly high. The desert just needed proper distribution of its resources to become fertile.
We went to the local Lutheran church after visiting the field. Our visit was not planned in advance, but we were welcomed with extreme hospitality. They served us water and coke, and after they found out that we were born in Nebraska, they were ecstatic. This church has a sister congregation in Nebraska and they are eternally grateful for this partnership.
We learned that the church helped them build the water system that makes the farming possible. Essentially, they dug the stream and the stream’s fingers that run through the crops. It took about eight years, and the project finished in 2004. This has greatly improved the economic opportunities for the community. Before we left they brought us homemade necklaces and vegetables from the crops.
Below is a photo that shows the desert to the left and the crops to the right. When you look at the desert you can’t imagine that the land would be fertile, but it truly is. The crops are thriving. We found out that the village close by is named Kyomu, which means “Dry Place.” Its name may have been appropriate before, but it no longer suits the area.
We promised that we would send Kyomu’s gratefulness to Nebraska; so, thank you ELCA Nebraskans! You have helped change this area from unproductive land to wonderful, fertile farmland!