Sunday, July 5, 2009

"What books on good farming practices for our farmers?" by Young Kimaro, columnist for the Daily News, Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania

Young Kimaro writes the "Development with Commonsense" column for the Daily News in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. Her articles are informative, rich with food for thought as well as pragmatic solutions.

This is one of Ms. Kimaro's recent columns on education and reading. Please feel free to post a comment.

What books on good farming practices for our farmers?
by Young Kimaro
Development with Commonsense column
February 7th issue of the Daily News

Not much as far as I know. Few pamphlets here and there perhaps. Don’t know whether they reach the farmers, though. Haven’t seen any sign of them around our village.

I once scoured around Dar es Salaam in search of reading materials in Kiswhaili on better farming practices and animal husbandry, written simply and with good illustrations suitable for farmers. My experience was much like Teben’s. Bookshops around the city were slim on books in Kiswahili. The recently opened Soma Book CafĂ© carries more books in Kiswahili than any that I have seen so far, but when it comes to books on farming and livestock they too didn’t make the mark.

I am directed to one agricultural project office near the Askari monument. No, we don’t handle such publications. Sorry. Perhaps you should try our main office at Chang’ombe. The Livestock Ministry is right there too. They are sure to have what you are looking for. Everything.

O.K. Agricultural Extension folks interact with farmers all the time. If anyone has those materials, surely it would be them. So, with raised hopes I plunge into the Dar es Salaam traffic and head out to Chang’ombe.

A spiel to one of the senior officers: Looking for books on improved farming for villagers – crops, livestock, chicken rearing. I wait in anticipation as she opens the glass door to a bookcase by her desk in which are several rows of small booklets standing tightly packed. She pulls out a few. What about these?

“Enriched Compost for Higher Yields”, “How to Control Striga and Stemborer in Maize”, “Improved Practices in Rearing Indigenous Chickens,” and more. They are part of a “CTA Practical Guide Series” financed by the European Union. They come with simple and easy to follow diagrams and tables.

I can’t hide my excitement. Yes, yes, precisely. These are exactly what I am looking for but, but … in Kiswahili? She shakes her head. Used to have some but no more. No funds. Perhaps the Library…. She leads me through the corridors.

The Librarian offers a few more of the same pamphlets, all in English. Aren’t there any in Kiswahili? The Librarian shakes her head. Sorry. How come? Most of the farmers in Tanzania don’t read English but these are all in English? How come? Who are they for?

The Librarian is taken back by the sudden outburst that’s unfairly hurled at her. After all, she only keeps what’s given to her. She quickly ushers me to an mzee seated at one corner of the Library, reading. Mr. Eusebio Mlay’s one of our senior officers. Maybe he can help you. With that she wastes no time retreating to the safety of the book stacks.

Mr. Mlay had overheard the commotion and is bemused. May be our Ministry’s Training Unit will have what you are looking for. Come. He folds up what he was doing and leads out of the building into the blazing sun to another building, a little walk away.

A large office is filled with desks but only one at the far end is occupied. The officer responds stiffly to our greetings; bad sign. My spiel again, why I am here, what I am looking for. He pulls out a few books, real books, containing a wealth of information.

Don’t have any extra copies now, he explains. New order’s in for the next round of training. When the new batch arrives, can the Ministry possibly donate a few to a community library in our village? Not possible. Regulations. He is categorical, unyielding even to his colleague’s entreaties. We cut our losses short and scoot out of there.

Mr. Mlay wants us to try just one more office. It’s already well past the office hour but Mr. Kirenga, the new Assistant Director of Extension Services is still at his desk and kindly obliges a stranger knocking at his door without appointment.

For the seventh time that day the broken record plays the spiel again. But I sense it’s different this time. A shared concern lingers in the air.

At one time, says Mr. Kirenga, the Adult Literacy Program folks produced wonderful booklets on improved farming and practical guides on many other topics for adults. That probably was the reason why those literacy programs did so well. But they don’t do that any more. Their materials are very hard to come by. We had good work done, but we seem to have dropped the ball.

He had to scrounge around for them, says Mr. Kirenga, as he hands over a thick folder. Inside it are the very treasures I have been searching for: practical guides with simple illustrations to help farmers improve their farming and livestock keeping practices, all in … yes, Kiswahili! But these are the only copies he has. If only these could be reprinted and made widely available. Perhaps, in his new position he can make it all happen. Perhaps.

On my way out, as we pass his office Mr. Mlay pops in for a brief moment then comes out with few books in hand, the ones we were denied at the Training office. Homework, I surmise, remembering them days. But I am wrong. He holds the books out to me. Mama, these are for your library. Take them.

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