Water. It is all about water. Growing up in the Southwestern United States, periods of drought and arid climates were nothing new to me. As a family, we were always saving laundry gray water for the plants and taking brief showers. Water was valued as a finite and precious resource but nothing prepared me for the scarcity of water in East Africa. So what does agriculture look like with such limited access to water? It poses a huge and growing challenge for farmers in Tanzania but fortunately Global Service Corps is making an impact by training village members to use the resources they have to grow vegetables organically and water efficiently. The methods taught by GSC staff and volunteer participants are inspired by Bio-Intensive agriculture methods and rooted in three major principles.
- Healthy soil
- Proper plant spacing
Healthy soil is achieved by adding readily available (and free!) cow or chicken manure and wood ash to the topsoil. The manure and wood ash supply necessary nutrients to the plants while serving as a “sponge” to help keep more moisture in the soil. Proper plant spacing allows plants just enough room to grow big and strong while keeping them close enough to provide a shade over the soil to help retain moisture. This way the plants aren’t competing with one another for resources but they are still benefiting from their neighbours. Lastly, mulch consisting of organic material found around the farm (usually dried banana leaves or grasses) is layered on top of the soil in between plants. This further helps to keep the pounding sunrays from stealing all of those precious drops of water. These techniques are accompanied by other methods including crop rotation, companion planting and seed nurseries to empower communities to grow their own vegetables free of expensive, harmful pesticides. Although water will always remain a challenge, water efficient methods of farming go a long way in helping everyone involved feel a bit more hopeful and encouraged.
Lilah T. Sustainable Agriculture & Food Security Program, Tanzania
For more information on GSC’s Sustainable Agriculture & Food Security Program in Tanzania, click here