URU Shimbwe is an ordinary village in the slopes of Mt Kilimanjaro, except that it is home to many nationals who have seen the essence of sustaining ecological organic agriculture as a way of farming to eke out a living and for sale.
This is where I met Remmy Temba, who is on his late 50s could not exactly recall when he lastly fell sick and had to be hospitalized. His sole reason was ‘eating healthy, natural and fresh organic foodstuffs’ with his family right from his ancestral garden he inherited from his aged mother in 1979 and died at 105 last year.
Temba, a father of nine children, and all graduates from different Universities in and outside the country solely educated with his ecological organic agriculture. Without any external assistance, further narrates how from A to Z all his wealth has been from the three acre plot, where is home is also built on.
He states further that he has been practicing ecological organic agriculture since 2003 when the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), experts visited the village for the first time to educate coffee farmers on the potential of organic farming in terms of economy, health and environment.
He says that the farm has been for more than 100 years been cultivating the Arabica coffee, passion trees, banana trees, legumes, beans, maize, peaches, Avocado and yams.
“Prior to FAO trainings in 2003, I and my fellow villagers were practicing inorganic farming that call for use of industrial farm inputs, but affected the natural ecological system against the survival of some insects such as worms, ants and which are important in sustaining soil fertility.”
Though, the positive impact of using such industrial chemicals in growing coffee has been ensuring big quantity of harvest, they are generally of poor quality in the market.
“On the negative side, conventional agriculture destroys soil fertility and that forced me to change places of cultivating other food crops like banana, beans and maize within the same farm after every three years just to keep the soil to become fertile,” said Temba.
Taking a walk in his plot of fresh Arabica coffee that has been there for a 100 years, one would see flouring green plants thriving without the application of any modern fertilizer and pesticides to kill or chase away rodents and pests.
In the farm, all sorts of fruit plants ranging from avocado, passion to plums are planted for both family and commercial purposes, besides yams, banana plants and a series of trees including neem (Azadirachta indica), which retain soil fertility and for medicinal values as well as sale.
Asked how he manages to fight diseases in the farm which may attack his crops like coffee, Temba says that he borrowed a leaf from his grandparents and later parents that the best way to fight any pest is to grow onions in the same plot, because its smell chases away many insects without necessarily killing them, because they (pests) also have a role to play in the chain and ecosystem.
“Or you can also use rabbits and cows’ urine, which I collect and keep for 21 days to be conquer, concentrate and ferment then I sprinkle at the affected crop. Surely I do not use any modern fertiliser and pesticide, because at the end of the day, they destroy my soil fertility and kill organic life in the soil I expect to decompose and turn into compost manure in my farm.
“A farmer can also use ordinary cooking fat poured on the ground to attract ants and bugs, which eat pest insects. Why use chemical fertilisers and hosts of pesticides which also kill bees and wasps, yet they are also important in cross-pollination and honey making,” posed the farmer.
His narration led us to an area in his farm, where local cross bred cows would be seen chewing cud, pigs grunting, and rabbits raised for their meat and fur circling in a hutch. Close to his house, there are two big beehives (apiaries) which are commercially kept and honey supplied in several Supermarkets in and outside the country.
It was surprising to learn that in his 3 acre farm, he is capable of harvesting about 700 kgs of coffee that is purely organic and sell a kilo at 4,500/-in comparison to a convectional one that sells at 2,500/-the same kilo, with a lot of cosmetic care of modern fertilizer, pesticides like a broiler, something that is expensive to many ordinary farmers.
He further points out that ecological organic agriculture has helped him all along because it is resilient to weather changes, cheap to manage with easily acquired cow dung as manure and guarantees him good reliable income.
“I do not have to look for market, because once people realize that your food crops and coffee is organic, they just come on their own,” he said, when coincidentally a group of buyers from South Africa and Europe trooped in to buy a stock he had in store on the day led by some Kilimanjaro Native Cooperative Union (KNCU)-a body that buys coffee from the farmers in Kilimanjaro Region.
Commenting on the method of farming, Tanzania Organic Agriculture Movement (TOAM), Communication Advisor, Constantine Akitanda, in their registered NGO and an umbrella organization that coordinates and promotes the development of organic farming among farmers, said that: “There is a big opportunity in organic farming that farmers must grab. The demand for organic agro products is growing in the world. In Tanzania U$6billion has been invested in organic farming so far. Tanzania is the only country to date in the EAC region that has adopted a policy statement on agro ecology since 2013.”
It was also noteworthy to realize that the same NGO also engages in distribution, networking and information share on the ecological organic agriculture development to farmers countrywide.
“TOAM sees development of the organic farming sector as a crucial factor for sustainable livelihoods and envisions establishing a vibrant, sustainable and mutually beneficial organic sector in Tanzania. Here, ecologically based pest controls and biological fertilizers derived largely from animal and plant wastes and nitrogen-fixing cover crops are introduced in farms cheaply by a farmer,” he added.
In the village, almost 90 per cent of the residents rely on ecological organic agriculture, livestock and beekeeping as their key economic activities, something that has highly discouraged its youth to shun rural-urban migration for jobs.