Sharpening our Shamba Skills: Sustainable Agriculture Training at BCC

by Kimber Bialik

Growing up in Canada, where my food came from was never something that I put a lot of thought into. Aside from the occasional sticker on a piece of produce indicating which country it was grown in, food came from the supermarket, and that was that. Here in Moshi, production chains are much clearer. Every week, I buy my vegetables from a woman name Rosie, and I know that my eggplant, zucchini, and peppers are grown nearby in Machame, a neighbouring town in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro. Living in an area of the world where smallholder farming dominates the agricultural industry, there is an element of familiarity to buying produce, and as BCC’s own shamba (farm) grows, we hope to become part of that equation.

BCC’s shamba is housed at our Moshi Mjini Centre, the centre where our young adult program is based. In Moshi, and in Tanzania in general, many residents engage in either subsistence farming or grow produce to sell at the town market (the “sokoni”), which means that learning farming skills is an important part of our young adult vocational training program. Currently, the eggplants, lettuce, and other produce that the young adults grow on our shamba are used primarily to supplement meals for the children at BCC’s centres, but with a focus on making BCC more sustainable and independent, our aim is that eventually we can begin to sell the majority of the vegetables we produce as an income generating source.

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Steven, a young adult at Moshi Centre, admires a green pepper harvested from the shamba.

While our young adults and staff at Moshi Centre have no shortage of enthusiasm about the shamba, they lacked the tools and the expertise to begin to professionalize the farm and increase our output. In order to help the shamba become an income generating project, BCC needed to bring in the experts! Thanks to the generous support of ERM, BCC was able to consult the Hoja Project, an organization based in Songea, in Southern Tanzania, which provides training in sustainable agricultural practices. The Hoja Project staff joined us at Moshi Centre for one week to provide BCC with the training in organic farming and permaculture that we needed to help us take our shamba to the next level.

Young adults from select centres where BCC hopes to create new shamba projects joined the young adults from Moshi Centre for the training, and listened attentively as the Hoja Project staff guided the group through an introductory lesson about soil, helped us identify and collect the elements to build our very first compost pile, taught us how to test the pH level of the soil, and walked us through how to make affordable and environmentally friendly pesticides. BCC staff and a number of BCC parents joined the sessions as well, and will be the key to supporting the young adults in implementing these new techniques at the shamba.

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Young adults, BCC staff, and parents crowd around Hoja Project facilitator Max to learn how to test the pH level of soil using their new measurement tool.

While the young adults who work on the shamba every day and the staff who support them are an obvious choice as the participants for an organic farming and permaculture training, a number of parents of BCC clients were invited to join the training as well. BCC staff will be the first to tell you that we aim to provide a holistic service, which by their definition, means that in addition to supporting children and youth with intellectual disabilities, we support their families as well. There is a correlation between disability and poverty that exists in every corner of the world, and many of the families of people with intellectual disabilities here in Moshi come from low income backgrounds. For that reason, supporting income generation for the families of BCC clients is a distinct area in which we work, and the involvement of the parents of BCC clients in this training with the Hoja Project is one small example of how we implement that.

The parents who attended this training will help contribute to the shamba at Moshi Centre through volunteering, but will also be able to apply the knowledge to help their home gardens thrive, either to feed their families or to increase their output for sales to the local market. Given the significant role that farming plays in the lives of so many families in Moshi, it is no surprise that by the second day of training, Patrick, the Young Adult Program Coordinator, was already being bombarded with phone calls from other BCC parents who wanted to know how they could join us for the training – good news travels fast!

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Mama Calvin, whose son accesses in-home services through BCC, was one of four BCC parents who joined the young adults in their training session. Here, she and Levina show off the results of their brainstorming about the elements of organic compost!

The Hoja Project played an important role in growing the potential of the BCC farm, but for BCC, this is only a first step towards sustainability. The real challenge comes with implementation, but the Hoja Project has left us well placed with the practical tools to focus on using these organic farming techniques to increase our shamba output and help us reach a point where BCC can begin to market our produce. Although BCC still has a long road ahead of them before our shamba becomes income generating, BCC becoming a key part of local production chains is within sight – and here’s hoping that the next time you read a blog post about sourcing produce in Moshi, the author will be able to tell you the name of the BCC young adult who toiled away on the shamba to help produce their dinner!

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