Starting in northwestern Tanzania, Joseph Sekiku is improving economic possibilities for small-scale farmers by giving them greater control over their products post-production and greater access to global markets. By doing so he equips farmers to make their own decisions about their business rather than be directed and exploited by middlemen.
The New Idea
Joseph is fostering entrepreneurship among farming families in northwestern Tanzania. He does this by helping small-scale producers understand how markets work, and how they may move beyond subsistence by adopting new approaches to post-harvest production, marketing, and distribution. He introduces methods that improve yield, such as low-cost techniques and tools for drying and packaging fruits, and helps farmers connect to each other and to new markets. Taken together, these approaches yield higher incomes to small-scale producers—but just as important, they inspire rural farmers to see themselves in a completely new light: As enterprising initiators paving a better future for themselves and their families. As Joseph notes, the time is ripe to realize changes in the economics of small-scale production, as farmers are supported by a burgeoning citizen sector, an economy that is open to global markets, and improved information exchange.
Following independence in 1963, President Julius Nyerere passed the Arusha Declaration that pronounced everyone as equal. While this declaration was positive on the surface, its practice was not. The government set a threshold on personal wealth and took over property and businesses that reached beyond it. While the wealth of the nation was meant to belong to all, government services did not reach the majority of Tanzanians—particularly those living in rural areas—and the overall situation for poor people worsened. The restrictive policies dampened the spirit and practice of entrepreneurship, and citizens who protested were silenced.
In today’s Tanzania, government and private institutions that aim to help farmers and improve food security tend to focus on increasing crop yield. Little emphasis is placed on helping farmers manage the yield, reduce waste in the post-harvest processes, and connect to the market. This is a problem because an estimated 60 percent of the produce in Tanzania is lost due to inefficient post-harvesting methods, and small-scale farmers are vulnerable to exploitation from middlemen, who absorb much of the profit.
Joseph believes that to see true gains in production and incomes, farmers must understand the full business cycle from seed through harvest all the way to the consumer. Through a series of workshops and meetings held by Eden Center for Appropriate Technology (ECAT), Joseph brings together farmers who have worked largely in isolation and with limited tools and understanding about how their produce fits into a larger system.
The “curriculum” Joseph has developed to guide discussions with small-scale farmers has several components. He helps farmers understand that the system currently in use is largely exploitative, and that opportunities exist for increasing income not only by producing more, but also by focusing on what happens after harvest. To illustrate this claim concretely, Joseph gathers imported items sold in nearby shops and supermarkets, such as juice concentrates and marmalade. With the participating farmers, he traces each product through multiple links and middlemen, back to the farmers right there in the room. This exercise, and the accompanying “Ah-ha!” realization it inspires, helps the farmers to see the great value of their products and open to learning new skills that will enable them to gain control of what happens post-production.
Joseph also sees a role for low-cost, simple technologies that farmers can apply after harvest. Fruit driers and processors lengthen the life of perishable farm products, enabling farmers to hold onto their products in times of low prices and sell them at the moment of greatest profit. The technologies are simple and affordable, require little skill to create, and need only natural energy sources, like sunlight. Joseph assists in production, but farmers manage the processes and facilities. Additionally, Joseph has trained local carpenters to construct fruit driers, making it easy for any farmer to acquire the technology. He has also partnered with organizations working in food security to enable farmers to get technical assistance.
Once the farmers are aware of the opportunities and have begun to develop the capacity to handle their product post-harvest, Joseph connects the farmers to markets within and outside Tanzania. Starting with one email connection—Joseph had the first internet connection in Karagwe—he took emails from all over the region on behalf of the farmers and distributed hard copies to respective farmers. Using his organization’s domain, Joseph helped each farmer acquire their first email address to help them communicate directly and more effectively with the markets. This “email post office” has grown into a government recognized post office station in Karagwe. Joseph also expanded internet services in Karagwe by turning his office into an internet service provider to scores of internet cafés. The service fees are purely on the basis of helping a wider population to access information, which has translated into cheaper services for farmers.
Joseph has also partnered with the Kenya Agriculture Commodities Exchange (KACE), run by Ashoka Fellow Adrian Mukhebi, to provide up-to-date information on markets in Kenya. On a daily basis, KACE collects, sorts, and disseminates information on prices in various markets and on areas of food shortage and surplus. Joseph receives and redistributes this information to farmers.
Joseph currently works with over 1,500 households, and is actively expanding his work through northwestern Tanzania. To achieve the reach he envisions, he is establishing a community radio and will air discussions to give farmers a voice in managing their livelihoods. Joseph is extending the reach of the internet to rural communities, and by 2009 plans to connect three more institutions in the region to the internet and to regional markets. Joseph also expands his work through existing citizen networks, and offers courses to partner institutions. He understands that his plans must be matched by a guaranteed access to markets, and therefore, works with farmers to improve the quality of products so that they may fall under national standards and be promoted by the Tanzanian government to international markets.
Joseph as born in 1966 in a family with a strong medical background—his father and siblings were doctors and nurses. At a young age, Joseph had a slightly different view of health and challenged his family: Joseph believes health is more sustainable when one eats properly and not only when accessing the proper treatments. Although he grew up in a well-off middle-class family, Joseph questioned the differences between his family’s standard of living and other less fortunate families in Tanzania.
With Joseph’s interest in nutrition as a way to promote health and well-being, he has dedicated his life to helping farmers and their families turn their agricultural produce into a profitable venture.
In 1990 Joseph set up a demonstration farm to share effective farming methods and high-income crops on the world market with farmers in Karagwe, a small town of 40,000 people in north western Tanzania. Sensing that Tanzania is moving towards a more open economy, Joseph set out to work with farmers to develop entrepreneurial methods to manage their harvests and access markets for their products.
Joseph has pioneered a number of transformations in Kagarwe. He created the first email account in the town, connecting hundreds of farmers through an email post office which has transformed into a nationally recognized post office. Joseph has also connected the entire town to the internet by providing internet connectivity to internet cafés to bring people into contact with the outside world.