A tree nursery near Morogoro, Tanzania. (Courtesy of Trees for the Future, CC 2.0.)
This is the fourth of several blog posts written from Dar es Salaam and Morogoro, Tanzania. I’m visiting Tanzania thanks to CARE USA, which has paid for my trip with the help of a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Its purpose, for me at least, is to explore one country’s need for humanitarian aid and development assistance and to examine America’s political will and commitment to deliver on its promises.
The impact of American development aid to Tanzania, and the vast distance yet to go, were both evident in abundance during the fifth, and last, day that I spent in Tanzania.
In the morning, we flew from Dar es Salaam to Morogoro, a one-hour flight from the capital in a twin-engine Cessna but a world away. Nestled at the center of a group of five Tanzanian districts, Morogoro is a bustling town with a busy marketplace and a network of paved thoroughfares that lead to dirt roads leading in every direction. But the primary activity here, among the 2 million people who live in the five districts around Morogoro, is agriculture. When I asked Mvomero district’s Anthony Mtaka, the district commissioner—the equivalent of a state governor in the United States, though appointed by President Kikwete—what percentage of the 300,000 people in his district were farmers and peasants, he didn’t hesitate. “Ninety-nine percent,” he answered.
As in most of Tanzania, the majority are desperately poor, subsistence farmers. Nearly all of them farm tiny plots, growing barely enough to feed their families, if that, and few have any substantial surplus to bring to market.
One exception is the Uwawakuda irrigation cooperative farm. More than 900 Tanzanian farmers, including 414 women, have banded together to farm a 5,000-acre spread whose productivity is fed by a pumping station and irrigation system that provides underground water to the farm. Originally installed three decades ago during the era of Tanzania’s president and founder, Julius Nyerere, the pumps are creaky now, and thanks to a grant from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) new ones are being installed. It’s a star attraction for USAID’s Feed the Future program. According to the local officials who run it, the American help will rebuild the pumps, pave an access road, and rehabilitate the drainage canal that supplies the network of rice farms in the complex. In addition, USAID has put in place a model farm that teaches members of the coop the best practices in rice farming. A phalanx of women farmers greet us as we arrive at the model farm, singing and clapping and performing a series of original songs they’ve prepared for the occasion, and one of them, Victoria, with tears in her eyes, describes a litany of gains she’s been able to achieve as a member of the relatively prosperous coop, with USAID’s assistance.
Problem is, for the rest of the 2 million people in and around the area, things are bleak.