By Krista Zimmerman, Lutheran World Relief
Bakina Zacharia is a woman farmer who lives in remote Idole Village in Dodoma, Tanzania. Dry climate and unpredictable rainfall make farming challenging, but there are few other livelihoods options.
Like many farmers in the region, Bakina grows onions, a popular crop. And in the past, she struggled to make enough money to provide for her family. Like the farmers around her, she used to harvest her crop in the fall and sell them right away. Because all the farmers sold at once, the market was flooded and prices were low.
And sometimes the onions were left to rot because there was no one who wanted to buy them.
But recently, something had changed for Bakina. It was a little thing but it made a big difference. Her village government built a simple storage shed. And Bakina leased it.
The shed is not particularly fancy; it is not made of pricey materials or depend on modern technology. In essence, it’s just bricks, boards and chicken wire. What makes the shed so effective for farmers like Bakina is that it includes a large waist-high shelf that that keeps the onions off the ground, slowing down the spoilage process.
The community identified this simple, inexpensive technology to help them increase their incomes from onion harvests. It has improved Bakina’s prospects significantly.
Now, instead of selling her onions at the market’s peak, Bakina stores them until she can find a good buyer and get the best price. Last season she was able to sell her onions for six times more than the price she would have received at harvest, making the shed rental a worthwhile investment.
A recent World Bank report hypothesized that many farmers in Africa tolerate post-harvest crop spoilage because they see no economic incentive to reduce it. Bakina is no longer in that camp. The shed has been a game changer. Farming used to barely make ends meet. Now it provides her with enough money to buy other types of food, pay for school and expand her business.
Bakina says that having storage for her crops is like being able to go to a bank. “If I need some money right away,” she says, “I can go to the shed, sell a few [onions] at the going price and get the money — but the rest I will save and wait until the price goes up.”
Improving the lives of small-scale farmers does not always require complicated and expensive initiatives. Bakina’s success is proof that simple investments can be effective.
Krista Zimmerman is a senior policy advisor at Lutheran World Relief. Motivated by faith and grounded in the Lutheran tradition, Lutheran World Relief (LWR) works to build and maximize community assets to develop strong local economies and resilient communities. Driven by local needs and working with local partners, LWR focuses on underserved rural communities, with particular emphasis on improving livelihoods for small-scale farmers and ensuring sustainability by strengthening the capacity of local organizations.