Making innovation “shine” in Tanzania

Drones, aquaponics systems, solar power water desalinization, LED-lit farms with optimized photosynthesis and digital soil mapping.  That’s the list of top five innovations in agriculture for 2015. How many of these are applied in Africa? And how many of these are applied on a large scale in smallholder farming?

Innovation is crucial for development. We already know a lot about how to achieve high yields in a resource-efficient and nature-nourishing way. Yet in Africa, where more than half of the population is employed in agriculture and the land is rich and arable, the uptake of new agri tech is rather low.

In a world busting with tech innovation it seems that most of it stays in conference presentations. Adopting new approaches and technologies requires favorable social and economic conditions as well as infrastructure. People need to know what innovation is for and how they can apply it, they need to have resources to work with it, and they need to have the means to make use of it if they are to benefit.

In a way, adopting innovation, bedding it in and making it stick is an innovation by itself and perhaps more challenging than coming up with the invention in the first place. That’s why the Tanzanian Horticulture Association (TAHA), immediately caught my attention during the side-event about new technologies during the 43rd session of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS).

Established in 2004, TAHA is a membership-based business association which connects actors along the value chain of horticulture, meaning that they work with vegetables, fruits, spices and flowers. Members include farmers working at different scales, processers, traders and people who work with market information, as well as experts who provide farmer training in agricultural practices to improve the standard of produce. TAHA has Information and Communications Technology (ICT) set up to provide farmers with information about prices, and even its own logistics company with refrigerated trucks.

Financially it is structured as a public-private partnership, where the public element is represented by support from the government of Finland, the United States,  and the Netherlands. The Tanzanian Government provides investment in infrastructure. The private part of the partnership is TAHA itself: when farmers get up to speed and start to make money, they pay for TAHA services, like logistics, marketing and receive part of the profit from successful deals on the foreign market.

“In 2004 horticulture was nowhere, it was not considered to be a commercial activity, and it was just something Tanzanians used to grow in their backyard. Our innovation was about teaching the farmers to apply improved agricultural practices, so that they could increase their yields without acquiring more land,” explains Anthony P. Chamanga, Chief Manager-Development at TAHA.  

Another of TAHA’s innovations involves advising the farmers about what the market wants and when. TAHA collects market information across Tanzania and establishes market trends. “So then when a farmer comes to us and says she or he wants to grow horticulture, we can look at our calendar and tell her or him what to grow to meet the market demand when the prices are the best.”

In my view, the biggest innovation from all that TAHA is doing  is that it is taking an ecosystem-based approach to the business of farming.  Its approach penetrates the entire value chain of horticulture, and that seems to work. I ask Mr. Chamanga how business is doing. “When we started, the annual export revenue was $60 million and now it is $550 million.”

Working in partnerships and learning from each other is as old as the hills, but it is, at the same time, the essence of large-scale innovation adoption. That’s what embeds innovation into the social fabric of communities and makes tech solutions shine.

Blogpost by Ekaterina Bessonova #CFS43 Social Reporter ekaterina.bessonova (at) sei-international.org 

Photo credit:  Hendrik Terbeck  via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

This post is part of the live coverage during the 43rd session of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS). This post is written by one of our social reporters and represents the author’s views only.

24/10/2016 14:00

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