By Kizito Makoye
IRINGA, Tanzania (AA) - When Osmund Ueland met a group of farmers to pitch his idea about starting a goat milk project to help poor families improve nutrition and boost incomes, he elicited loud applause from the crowd.
Huddled in a dimly lit mud-walled house, the farmers unanimously approved the idea saying it was the best step to curb malnutrition and fight poverty.
"I congratulate him. This is a grace we need to embrace. We cannot let it slip away,” said Damian Muhomwa, a resident of Masukanzi in Tanzania’s southern highlands. “Whoever doesn’t use this opportunity, will remain poor forever."
The 72-year-old, Norwegian entrepreneur is chairperson and project manager for Farm for the Future -- a regional development project striving to increase agricultural productivity, improve nutrition and food security with the ultimate goal of reducing poverty in line with the country’s 2025 development vision, and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Under the proposed project, dubbed “Goat milk for nutrition program,” to be implemented by the company in conjunction with ASAS Dairies and experts from Sokoine University of Agriculture, 20 families will be awarded two milk goats each to keep so that when the goats reproduce after three years, they can sell the offspring and collect four liters of milk to feed their malnourished children and give some to the company.
“The milk will mean a lot to the families,” Ueland said.
Under a similar initiative, known as F-20, the company has sought a $90,000 loan to purchase equipment to support a group of medium farmers in the village to increase efficiency and crop productivity.
“We want them to be good ambassadors for others,” Ueland said with a grin.
The criteria for selecting beneficiaries is simple. The farmers should have at least five hectares of land close to the commercial farm run by Farm for the Future. They would use the equipment for free for two years and get unlimited access to subsidized inputs, including seeds, fertilizers, and chemicals provided by the company.
“We give smallholder and medium farmers the highest priority,” said Ueland.
When the farmers learn new skills and start reaping better yields and generate profit, Ueland said they will subsequently pay for the service.
“I think it is quite fair, with all that help we should be able to pay something in return,” said Constancia Kisegendo, a lead farmer in the village.
Agriculture is the backbone of Tanzania’s economy accounting for more than one-quarter of gross domestic product (GDP), providing 85% of exports and employs about 80% of the workforce.
Despite playing a pivotal role, analysts say the country still lacks successful models to inspire smallholder farmers.
However, Farm for the Future, which is committed to helping farmers reach their potential, has positioned itself as a beacon of best agricultural practice in the East African country.
Partly owned by Ilula Orphanage Programme (IOP) -- a community-based service organization working to change the lives of children and their families in rural Tanzania -- the company leases swathes of land on which it runs a commercial farm and a training center. They offer vocational training courses in agriculture for youths, farmers, and young single mothers who are socially excluded.
Since its inception in 2017, the company has trained more than 500 people, and according to Ueland, about 20% use their skills.
“This is a business model to stop poverty,” he stressed.
Looking at the farm from a high vantage point and seeing its rolling beauty, it gives you a glimpse of why the Norwegian entrepreneur chose a career in farming as opposed to a comfortable retirement.
“I want to demonstrate I have done something for the community,” he said.
The Ilula Township nestled at the foothills of Udzungwa Mountain ranges are badly affected by a combination of poverty, HIV/AIDS, unemployment, malnutrition, and dismal crop yields.
“We want to change that by helping farmers, youths, and young mothers to be financially successful,” the entrepreneur said.
The emerging agribusiness, which employs 50 people, 11 permanently, has invested $1.1million of private capital. Last year, the company harvested 750 tonnes of maize, an average of 3.5 tons per hectare, three times the local average.
“We are not very happy with it but we learned a lot,” Ueland said.
A dozen of socially and economically excluded young mothers in the impoverished village have stories to tell about Farm for the Future.
Habiba Abula Mtati, a 24-year-old single mother, who has trained a year ago, runs a successful poultry business at Ilula Sokoni village.
“The training has helped me to innovate this business. I get enough money to support my family,” she said.
In just a few months Mtati’s capital has doubled. She recently earned 225,000 Tanzanian shillings ($100) after supplying chicken to a local kitchen.
“I am very happy because I am now standing on my own feet,” she said.
The Farm for Future plans to expand by erecting a modern headquarters building and a milking station.
As part of its expansion plan, the company will team up with Kibebe farm, a leading milk supplier in the region, to establish a dairy farm with the capacity to keep 200 cows.
To diversify crop production, the company is mulling building a reservoir and irrigation system to control the planting of high-value crops, including maize seeds and macadamia trees. It currently grows 16 hectares of maize seed and plans to expand production to 40 hectares next year.
The organization is also planning to build three maize storage silos each with the capacity to take 500 tons.
“The silos will help us to keep the maize and sell it later at a very good price,” Ueland said.
Ilula Township Executive Officer Edward Mbembe said the company has the potential to accomplish its mission since they produce on a large scale.
“They produce food crops, train people and create jobs, this is enough evidence they’re fighting poverty,” he said.
Ali Hapi, Iringa Regional Commissioner has commended the company for its commitment to fight poverty.
“I have personally visited their farm. I was very much inspired by what they are growing,” said Hapi.