Zanzibar is a small island about 20 miles off the Tanzanian mainland in East Africa. Nestled in the Indian Ocean, this semi-autonomous tropical nation, known as “Spice Island” is home to close to a million inhabitants. Though the African and Arab hybrid population relies heavily on the fishing industry, over 75% of Zanzibari’s are sustenance farmers.
Tourism has become the major industry in the last 20 years, but Zanzibar farmers are barely benefitting from the estimated one million tourists that visit the island annually. Close to 80 percent of the vegetables supplied to the popular hotel industry are not from the island. Instead the majority comes from Dar es Salaam, a hub for vegetables grown in the more fertile areas of Tanzania.
The subsistence farmers on this small island labor mostly to feed themselves. Tomatoes, peppers and okra are the main cash crops for over 200 members of a Zanzibari farming association called Umwamwema, who have been working to increase their food security and income through enhanced productivity. Many farmers face various challenges in producing profitable crops, specifically knowledge about pesticides and diseases and accessing fresh water for irrigation. Through educational workshops complete with valuable agricultural information these farmers are aiming to become self-sufficient.
Some of these workshops are run by Danny Coyne, a pest and disease expert with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Tanzania. He educates farmers on methods to identify diseased plants and roots and the use of drip irrigation. The use of drip irrigation and water harvesting is new technology in Zanzibar, and pesticides, seeds and fertilizer tend to be expensive and of poor quality. Lack of knowledge and financial resources result in farmers either not using these technologies or not using them effectively, causing a low vegetable yield yet that has historically hindered the productivity.
Check out our video to get a glimpse into the life of the farmers of Umwamwema, and see a little bit of what they’re learning in the workshops in our “Ask an Expert” segment.
I produced this story for Planet Forward from the George Washington University as a 2013 new media fellow with the International Reporting Project (IRP).