Mlinda village, Kigoma region. You won’t find Mlinda on any map. That’s not a just a cliché, it’s physically not on maps. Satellite photos maybe, but printed find-them-in-an-atlas maps? No. Does this make it even remotely unique in Tanzania? Certainly not. And it is far for unique in many other ways as well. Maize/cassava based “economy”, one dirt track in and out, no electricity or running water, old men and women toiling in the fields, boys playing soccer in the evenings with a ball made of old plastic bags tied together, many many pants-less kids roaming around – some carrying other, smaller pants-less kids on their backs. It is, however, the nearest village to our seed nursery. And this, while possibly not making up for the slight of being overlooked by Tanzania’s cartographers, has a couple of fringe benefits.
Seed Change is all about boosting incomes and standards of living through agricultural improvements – namely by introducing world class varieties of oil palm trees to existing palm farmers (but you presumably already knew this). We do this through various methods which I won’t re-hash here (as they have been thoroughly hashed here and here). But perhaps equally as important, Seed Change is also completely enmeshed in Kigoma. All our operations are here. Apart from the Costa Rican seeds – which fairly obviously can’t be found in Tanzania – all our materials are sourced within Tanzania; the majority sourced from Kigoma town. And running the largest oil palm nursery in Tanzania (claim unsupported by any thorough fact checking, although probably true) requires a significant amount of casual manual labour. Weeding, fertilising, soil collection, poly-bag filling, planting, land preparation, greenhouse construction and many more basic, but indispensable, tasks go into making and running a seed nursery. And this is where the benefit to Mlinda comes in.
Jobs. Hard to find in general. And while I would not necessarily always want to do the jobs Seed Change has to offer – shoveling soil all day or repeatedly filling black poly nursery bags with soil – I was lucky enough to be born in a society where good schooling and good options exist. Not so for the people of Mlinda (there is no school in Mlinda and subsistence farming is not really a good option as much as a job of last resort). But over a two month period in Dec/Jan culminating with Planting Day, Seed Change created (well really our generous donors created) 672 days’ work for the people of Mlinda. Men largely shovelling/preparing soil and helping with the greenhouse construction, women mostly filling the black poly bags and planting the seeds (a couple of industrious Mlinda ladies even set up a (very) temporary canteen pumping out chapatis and chai to feed this workforce). On Planting Day we had 63 people from Mlinda working. Cash paid at the end of the day. Watching the people smiling and laughing as they strolled off back to the village after work was finished, I was sure it would be a good night in Mlinda. In addition to their daily pay, everyone also took home one of the plastic containers that the seeds came in. Nothing flash, of almost no monetary value but very little of anything of use goes to waste in Mlinda. I still see these containers being used for various purposes from time to time.
One young guy, Dotto Claudio who is maybe 20 years old, worked every day available to him. And hard. No nonsense, no making fun of the Mzungu trying to instruct him in Kiswahili, just working. Dotto doesn’t speak any English and struggled to write his name on the sign-in and payment sheet. His life will almost definitely be one of back-breaking laborious manual farming for the next 40 years. The other day I saw him in Mlinda wearing a brand spanking new American baseball cap. One of those flat brim ones. Not a cap I necessarily choose to wear and hardly a life changing purchase for Dotto – he didn’t squirrel away his money for a tin roof or a motorbike so he could earn some money as a taxi driver or save up, put himself through the non-existent college and become a doctor – but in a world where Dotto has a disposable income of approximately zero, and probably has never even treated himself to a Kit-Kat while doing his grocery shopping (full disclosure: I have done this many many times), it’s nice to see him enjoying a new baseball cap curtesy of a job created by Seed Change.
Don’t get me wrong. These few days of work will change no one’s life for good. Long term jobs with secure salaries are thin on the ground and probably the best route out of poverty. But those jobs are notoriously hard to create out of nothing, so Seed Change works to help Tanzanians improve their lives with the things they have (land, labour, farming experience and a desire for a better life for their children). But the benefits of being completely Tanzanian based are not insignificant. This is one part of the ‘multiplier effect’ in development parlance.
People talk a lot about charity ‘impact’ and getting donations directly to their intended recipients and it is very close to our hearts too. But often these multiplier effects are hard to capture in the ‘impact’ metric. For us here in Kigoma we can see every day how our work with palm farmers is making a difference, engaging farmers, and that the donations are going straight to growing more seedlings and training more farmers. Multiplier effects are most often considered to be the jobs created through the value chain (supplier, transport, support services) based on a specific stimulus (a factory, a port, small business support program). Agricultural development has a high multiplier effect as it has a long value chain (farm to fork). In our case as the world-class palm varieties start to mature on local farms, the multiplier effect will be seen in the increase in jobs processing, to transporters, and to other suppliers. And I guess now we should add American baseball cap sellers in rural Tanzania to that list.
To help create more jobs in Kigoma and support farmers, maybe consider making a donation so we can continue to grow change out here. We’ll let you know if some of your money ends up with Dotto.