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Harry Leech in Tanzania – Post 7

Harry Leech is currently in Tanzania producing a project for the Simon Cumbers Media Fund on the support Ireland gives to Tanzania farmers. This is the seventh of his many posts.

12th October 2010

I’ve long believed that the most significant truths can come to light from the smallest encounters. As a journalist it’s important to research the facts and figures around a story, but often it’s not until you get to meet the people involved that you get a feel of what the real truth is in a particular situation. You never know when an abstract idea or a hunch will be proven or disproven through real-life experience.

As we were driving along a dusty dirt road from one Farmer Business Group (FBG) meeting to another, January began loudly honking the horn of the Toyota Hilux at an elderly looking man on a bicycle, while waving his arm furiously out the window of the pickup. At first I didn’t pay too much attention – as anyone who has been to rural Tanzania will tell you, there is a strict hierarchy on the bumpy, dusty roads, with drivers of 4×4’s at the top of the heap and cyclists close to the bottom.

One of the better local roads

Motorists in Tanzania, both locals and ex-Pats who have lived there for a while, have an interesting approach to pedestrians, livestock, cyclists and even drivers of smaller vehicles – make use of the horn freely and barrel on at high speed, hoping that the living obstacles get out of the way in the nick of time. The system seems to work, just, for the most part.

When we came to a halt we hopped out of the cab and I was introduced to Jeremiah, who was the head of one of the local FBG’s. Jeremiah had a thick white beard to compliment his white hair, but other than that it would be hard to distinguish his age. He was clearly a fit man and had been pedalling at some speed on his old fashioned black bike until we interrupted him.

Jeremiah listened politely and smiled at us as January explained that I was a journalist who was in Kyela to learn about the lives of the local cocoa farmers and how TechnoServe were helping them improve their livelihoods and he told us that he would help us in any way that he could. However, when January told him that I was from Ireland his attitude changed immediately – he gripped my hand and began speaking earnestly to me in Swahili, his voice and eyes filling with emotion as the words tumbled out. As he spoke, January translated for me.

January, Jeremiah & a local Agricultural Officer

“He wants to thank you for the training that your government are giving our farmers. He says that before Irish Aid began to help the farmers in this area, they did not know how to tend to their crops properly, they did not know what their crop was worth and they were taken advantage of by middle men*. They were poor and had no opportunities. He said if Irish Aid continues to give them training and support they can get a better price for their crops and they will be able to look after themselves and their families. He asks that Irish Aid continue helping the cocoa farmers to help themselves.”

It wasn’t a situation that I was prepared for – I’m an occasionally cynical journalist trained to ask tough questions of people who want to give soft answers – and I was at a loss as to what to say. I eventually stuttered that I wished him and his FBG success and that I was sure that the project will help them even more over the coming months. After talking a little more about what he and the farmers in his group had learned about tending their crops and about economics, we got back into the pickup, Jeremiah got back on his bike and we went our separate ways.

Jeremiah, a local FBG leader

I was struck by what Jeremiah had said and how much it revealed about the effects of the project in Kyela. What he valued most and wanted more of from Irish Aid was not money, but the training to help himself and his family. Having witnessed some of the local team’s meetings with local farmer’s groups, I knew that the training was part agricultural, part economic, but just as important was increasing the farmer’s confidence in their own abilities.

When you are a price-taker working a tiny plot of land, with little formal education and no sense of your own capabilities, the sort of training that this programme is giving can change how you see the world and how you see yourself. Jeremiah was just one of many remarkable people that I met during my time in Kyela, someone who is learning more about his own capabilities and who is helping to lead his neighbours towards a more secure life with the help of Irish Aid. I don’t know his surname, the name of the farmers group that he leads, I don’t even know how old he is – but he’s someone I will find it very hard to forget.

*Cocoa traders who buy from farmers at below-market prices and sell to the cocoa exporters just a few miles up the road.

Please Note: The views and opinions expressed in blogs under the Simon Cumbers Media Fund are those of the journalist and / or their interviewees. They do not necessarily reflect the views of Irish Aid, the Department of Foreign Affairs or the Irish Government.