By Joyce Chimbi

Life has not been the same for Flora Godson from Oldonyowas village of Oldonyowas Ward in Arusha Tanzania since embracing the Participatory Guarantee System (PGS) five years ago. Not only is her expansive farm putting food on the table, but more money in her pocket as she can now sell her farm produce of fruits and vegetables at double the price come rain or sunshine.

“When we take our children to the clinic for growth monitoring, they always hit their development milestones because we are now able to diversify our diet. We no longer suffer from stomach ulcers too. This region gets very dry from May to November every year, but we still receive a bountiful harvest all year round. Before, our Moran – young men in the Maasai community- could not eat vegetables and lived solely on meat and milk,” says Godson, popularly known as Mama Ezra.

This success story started with the introduction of PGS, a local quality assurance system or alternative certification scheme for organic products. Although organic farming is more profitable than conventional farming, smallholder farmers and livestock operators often face high costs associated with organic certification.

Conventional farming is propped by large amount of chemical fertilizer and pesticide that is used to increase the yields per hectare. Chemical and synthetic fertilizers and pesticides are not applied in the organic farming system to reduce their adverse environmental impacts. Organic foods costs more money than produce from conventional farming.

Tanzania has launched a groundbreaking National Ecological Organic Agriculture Strategy , a pivotal moment in the nation’s agricultural revolution. This milestone leap towards green growth is centered on embracing transformative agriculture approaches to create more sustainable and resilient food systems.

Mama Ezra makes her own bio-pesticides that also serves as liquid manure using farm resources such as cow and rabbit urine, cowdung and decomposing vegetation. Photo Joyce Chimbi

Other Eastern African countries are developing similar strategies. Towards this end, on June 4 – 7, 2023, over 120 partners from around the world working in government, civil society, research and philanthropy have come together in Arusha, Tanzania to discuss collaborative approaches for a rapid transition to agroecology and regenerative approaches.

Organic agriculture and agroecology provide systemic and evidence-based solutions to multiple interrelated challenges facing humanity today and more so, the three planetary crises of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution. Its multifaced benefits include enhancing biodiversity restoring soil health and expanding the global organic food market.

Within this context, certification and sustainability standards have become increasingly important. Organic certification is critical as it provides assurance to consumers that farm products were produced without chemical fertilisers and pesticides.

Farmers and producers are expected to have a certification logo to enable consumers identify products produced in line with strict organic standards from soil to markets. But existing certification processes are expensive and out of reach for most smallholder farmers in Africa.

To counter prohibitive certification costs, farmers in Oldonyowas are exploring alternative certification schemes that are better adapted to their needs and circumstances. PGS seeks to shift authority from technical specialists to a multistakeholder group, placing them in a position to develop standards and control mechanism.

Alternative organic certification is propped by a participatory guarantee scheme centred on farmer-to-farmer peer review, is built on equality and knowledge sharing between the inspector of standards and quality, and the inspected – farmers. In Oldonyowas village of 720 households who rely on farming and livestock keeping for instance, the system adheres to a well laid out structure and all organic farmers have a set of practices that they must adhere to and these farmers hold each other accountable, while working closely with the government’s agricultural extension officers.

“PGS is an affordable alternative. It is a system that is built on trust and social networks. Our organic produce is sold in local markets. Our consumers trust that the foods are produced organically and that is why we call it a trust-based system. The Oldonyowas village has three organic farming projects – the Oldonyowas Vegetable Growers (OVEGRO) that has 20 members which represents 20 households, Shifura which means love is an all-women organic farming group with 26 members and Embris which means grace and has 28 members,” says Antony Mbise, Chairman of Kilimo Endelevu project in Oldonyowas village.

The Kilimo Endelevu project is currently being practiced in 10 villages across Arusha and aims at supporting and promoting sustainable food systems, in order to build climate resilience in local communities who are often on the frontlines of the climate onslaught.

“Each of the three organic farming projects are run by four committees. Two of these committees are about production and quality assurance to ensure that farming techniques are in line with the agroecological principles. We do not use chemical fertiliser or pesticides, we make our own bio-pesticides which also act as manure by using cow dung, cow and rabbit urine and a variety of farm materials such as decomposing vegetables. Everything we need is on the farm and we do not have to purchase any additional material. We have a small section where we prepare our own compost in 24 hours,” he expounds.

Rehema Daniel, a member of the OVEGRO group affirms noting that the third committee is about marketing and a fourth committee is about education. Emphasising that members are often trained by agricultural extension officers, other government officials and stakeholders in the agroecological movement to continuously improve their knowledge, increase their yields and profit margins.

“We have also received support to access local markets. We currently have a ready market at the Glen Farm local market. We deliver farm produce such as fruits and vegetables once a week and we also sell directly to consumers. We have also been given access to simple and user-friendly technology to help us irrigate of our farms. We use very little water to farm on a very large piece of land,” she says.

Daniel is talking about the MoneyMaker Pump, a low-cost, high-quality and high-impact irrigation technology designed for smallholder farmers in Africa. Even though Africa holds an estimated 60 percent of arable land, only an estimated 4 to 6 percent of Africa is irrigated. Prolonged dry seasons continue to deepen rural hunger, malnutrition and poverty, as rains have become increasingly unpredictable.

Farmers like Daniel, Mama Ezra and Mbise now rely on the MoneyMaker to put food on the table and money in their pocket as they can now grow food year-round, start and sustain profitable farming businesses and sustainably lift themselves out of poverty. Oldonyowas village and surrounding areas have the highest production of carrots despite prolonged dry spells.

Arusha-based Hilary Njau from KickStart International who are behind the money making simple and user-friendly technology says that farmers are trained on its usage, maintenance and entrepreneurship. In cases where farmers are organised into groups, KickStart facilitates linkages between farmers and local markets.

Njau says that the MoneyMaker pump is a further development of the treadle pump also intended as a “foot operated pump for small scale irrigation. The Pump sucks the water to the cylinder from a water reservoir, then pressurizes it, sending it through a crude sprinkler over the crop. The Pump costs about $250 and has a life span of at least 20 years, providing an efficient and reliable rural water supply network.”

Mbise confirms that the water reservoir and the pump are communally owned and that farmers have equal access. Stressing that their story is a true testament that farmers can build sustainable food systems through low-cost techniques, enabling farming households to sustain high food and nutrition security levels.