Wake up and smell the fries!

Written By:Abel Bisibana
Date:6 January 2020
Theme:Social Situation
Wake up and smell the fries!

Grace Mbise and her husband are preparing their farm in west Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. But today, they are not working in their coffee fields. Grace grows both potatoes and coffee. “The cost of production for coffee and potatoes are almost the same”, she says. “But currently coffee brings back small profit and potatoes a large profit.” That’s why she decided to bring diversification to her farming.

Grace is an open-minded young farmer from Leguruki Village, in Arusha Region, on the foothills of the Tanzania’s second highest volcanic Mount Meru. Like many smallholder farmers in the area, Grace has a small coffee plot measuring half of an acre. She grows other food and cash crops like vegetables and maize on other parcels of land, which she either owns or rents. She also keeps livestock like chicken, goat and sheep. At 26 years, Grace has two children.

Transferring knowledge to new business opportunities in agriculture

Grace has been part of the Mbora Farmers Group since 2016 and was able to receive various training together with other farmers from her group from HRNS extensionists. “I learnt about internal savings, how to prepare project income statements, the importance of documenting the expenditures incurred and outputs generated, and how to set a vision for her farming work”, she explains.

Grace has been able to implement many of the skills she gained from this, but the recent coffee prices were very discouraging for her family. “We decided to expand the range of crops we grow” she remembers. “In that way, we wanted to increase our income as we were barely able to meet our basic needs such as adequate food, school fees for one child who studies in Arusha town and any emergency costs that arose.” It was time to look for other opportunities.

Grace decided to apply the project income statement that she had learnt in her record keeping training to potato farming. But first, she needed to think carefully about this: she needed to learn how to grow potatoes, and investigate the market in 2017. After that she started to grow potatoes in West Kilimanjaro in 2018. “Two things about potatoes were especially interesting to us: they grow twice a year and had a good market,” Grace explains the background of her decision.

Higher income and two harvests per year

She now grows potatoes in suitable areas in the west of Mount Kilimanjaro. Since they started growing potatoes in 2018, Grace’s family have experience a number of benefits such as starting the construction of a new house, putting solar power for constant availability of electricity, paying school fees for their children, raising livestock and starting a chicken business.

I think youve got to keep on going. That, to me, is the fun part of business.

As her understanding of potato farming matures, Grace’s confidence and experience in farming as a business continues to grow and she has ambitions to become a large potato farmer someday. But this does not mean that potato farming is easy: as with any other business, raising sufficient capital, attacks by viruses, seed bottlenecks and diminished yields due to a reliance on uncertified seed are just some of the challenges she faces.

“Sometimes it’s difficult to access the quality of the seed I get,” Grace says. Moreover, she still has a lot to learn about growing potatoes. But she loves these challenges as they keep her mind active and engaged in finding solutions.

Diversification supporting household development

Grace has learnt that having an alternative crop to coffee will help her household to meet some important needs. Moreover, she has realized that potatoes do not need a lot of rainfall and grow well even in drier years.

Mbora Farmers Group has 30 active members. Grace and her husband were able to sit down and prepare their own project income statement for the year 2019, which shows production cost and the projected profit they might get, an impressive TZS 4.6 million (around 1.800 Euro) for this year alone – almost five times the amount they expect to receive for their coffee.

I prefer growing potatoes instead of coffee if the price of coffee continues to go down, as in our area we are facing a heavy challenge on marketing regarding the final payment, this is one of the things that make us to lose hope in coffee production.