World Vision writer Kari Costanza reflects on a recent trip to Tanzania and the amazing food and agriculture development a community there has achieved through World Vision's Secure the Future program.
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Traveling in Tanzania recently, I read a highly disturbing article in The Citizen, a leading Tanzanian newspaper.
Tanzania has a population of 46 million, half of whom are children under 18. World Vision experts are quoted in the front-page article warning that 3 million* of those children are severely malnourished. (*see UNICEF's statistics for nutrition in Tanzania).
Four-year-old Lemi was malnourished.
She lived with her mother in Tabora, in western Tanzania, slowly growing thinner. Lemi’s father is in university across the country in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s biggest city.
Her grandmother, Fatuma, became concerned about Lemi.
“I was worried because Lemi was far away from me,” Fatuma told me. “She was skinny. She was developing some problems.”
Fatuma is part of a farming group in Makindube, near Kenya. The farmers bonded together to grow and sell rice as a team, rather than as individuals, through World Vision’s Secure the Future project.
Two years ago, Fatuma’s income more than doubled as her group experimented with improved rice seed and quality fertilizers applied properly. Her 30-member team banded together to set fair prices, no longer allowing greedy brokers to pay them substandard prices for their hard work.
This windfall allowed Fatuma to take in Lemi, who was struggling to grow.
“Now she eats ugali, rice, banana, milk, beans, fish, meat, and vegetables,” Fatuma said. “She is now fat!”
I wouldn’t call Lemi fat, but she is certainly healthy and happy. She likes to pretend to cook, molding sand into tempting imaginary morsels. And she loves her grandmother.
The genesis of an idea
A native of Tennessee, Tim Andrews has been national director of World Vision Tanzania for three years. In his first five months on the job, he was determined to visit every project in the country, spending a total of just two hours at his desk in those first months. The rest of the time he was in the field.
During those travels, while standing in a rice paddy with a dejected farmer in Makindube, he had an epiphany.
Makindube has a large irrigation system and fairly predictable weather. In a place like this, people should be able to farm profitably.
“I’m standing in the Garden of Eden,” Tim remembers thinking, “and the devil is still in control.”
Secure the Future emerged from that revelation. The program maintains World Vision’s best practices in agriculture, including protection of the environment. It provides safety nets for vulnerable families. And perhaps most importantly, it teaches a life-changing element: empowerment.
Secure the Future organizes farmers into groups. They access better seeds and fertilizers. The rice they plant, SARO 5, was developed to yield more grain that is tastier than its competitor. It even smells better than other varieties.
The farmers protect their environment – setting aside land for rehabilitation. It has already resulted in less flood damage to their villages. They use energy-efficient stoves, burning coconut husks for fuel instead of charcoal, and they make their own compost.
Now farmers have social safety nets – nutritional supplements for their children, financial literacy training, even parenting classes to help them build stronger families.
And on top of it all, it’s a new notion for a nation with socialist roots: the idea of empowerment.
As part of Secure the Future, men and women receive training in leadership roles. They learn to be Good Samaritans to one another through Bible-based teaching. Women learn to be better mothers, and men learn to be better fathers.
One farmer, Mrindwa, told me that he used to be a father “like a lion.” He would come home roaring. His wife would hide, and his children would scatter. Studying the story of the Prodigal Son during World Vision’s training changed his life. He is now a father who forgives and is forgiven.
Through empowerment, the notion of “I can’t” has turned into “Together, we can.”
This year, farmers faced hurdles due to two unexpected droughts, flooding, and another surprise: the government imported rice to sell at lower prices, hurting the local farmers’ SARO 5 sales.
But around Makindube, dejection has been replaced with determination.
Through Secure the Future, farmers now have a road map designed to reclaim Eden. And in a place where hunger continues to threaten the lives of children, it couldn’t come at a better time.
Should child nutrition be a priority for world leaders? One-third of preventable child deaths are due to malnutrition, but it doesn't have to be this way. On June 18 and 19, President Obama will meet with leaders from the wealthiest countries in the world, including Canada, Germany, Italy, and Japan. During this annual summit, better known as the G8, leaders discuss and prioritize issues of global concern, and we want President Obama to bring the issue of childhood hunger to the table. Add your name to the petition to ask President Obama to make this issue a priority.