24,000 trees. That’s how many we have in our nursery to give out to farmers. Sounds like a lot. And it is when you have to shovel the 400 tons of soil needed to grow the seeds. But it is not really many trees when you start thinking about which farmers – exactly – they will go to.
Take Kizenga – 273 eligible farmers signed-up for 71 places. So (more or less) a 1 in 4 chance of being selected for a life-changing opportunity and a 10-fold increase in annual income. Conversely a 3 in 4 chance of remaining with your low-yielding uneconomic trees that earn you an income of $275/year. So not great odds (you can help improve these odds by getting over to our donate page so we can grow more trees next year). To say the stakes were high is to do a disservice to understatement.
The names went into a hat. A piece of butcher’s paper was taped to the wall to write up the names of the ‘winners’. About 120 people – mostly farmers – were in attendance for the draw. Often in Tanzania things are stitched up behind closed doors, just decided by the government or by a fixed social standing. To have an open and transparent lottery was both a novel idea and a very welcomed one. The farmers were very taken with the method of selection as everybody could see they were in with a chance. And a chance at a hugely better life is not something these guys have very often.
To make things even less susceptible to corruption, it was suggested by the crowd that the selector of names be illiterate, something we thought a bit extreme, but it was deemed necessary. So an old lady was summoned and subjected to a reading test, which she duly failed. This test was re-applied incidentally during the name drawing to try and catch her out. It never did. Not even when she drew a paper, handed it to the (literate) announcer, and promptly burst into tears as he read out her own name.
It is hard to describe the atmosphere in the room. People were nervous for sure. And absolutely delighted if their names was called. Smiles and handshakes all-round. While the names were being drawn it was great fun, joyful even. But of course only a quarter of people were selected. When we had finished the vast majority of people were disappointed. They haven’t gone backwards but they haven’t gone forwards either like some of their neighbours may have. They don’t really know if we will be back next year and we don’t really know how many trees we will be able to grow either. Even if we come back and have spots for 1,000 farmers, that won’t be enough for everybody.
It will be names in a hat all over again.