Corona in Tanzania: Training in hygiene included in organic agriculture courses

Tanzania is also increasingly restricting public life, which is why our partner organisation SAT is no longer able to run its organic farming courses as usual. And all this at the start of the farming season – but digital channels and creativity are helping. 

Alexander Wostry and his wife Janet Maro run Sustainable Agriculture Tanzania. With trainings in agroecological farming methods SAT enables the farmers to grow their crops sustainably.

Laura Angelstorf, Multimedia Producer and Editor

By the time of my video call with Alexander Wostry (watch video at the end of this article), head of our partner organisation Sustainable Agriculture Tanzania (SAT), 13 Coronavirus cases had already been verified in Tanzania. It is already clear that public life in Tanzania must be scaled back to prevent the rapid spread of the virus. SAT works in the Morogoro region, where about three quarters of the population depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. In its training centre, SAT normally shows hundreds of farmers how they can grow their food without using chemical synthetic pesticides by using agroecological methods. But meeting as a group is no longer allowed in Tanzania.  
 
Alexander, are the training courses in organic farming methods for smallholders now cancelled? 
 
We are taking the situation seriously and have adapted our training plan to allow us to inform the farmers about the Coronavirus. We have linked it directly to hygiene training. We have demonstrated how farmers can wash their hands properly and installed a “TipTap”, a canister suspended from two wooden sticks where they can wash their hands with the help of a wooden pedal (see video min.1.19). We are not allowed to meet with the farmers as a group anymore, though. 
As a result, we are now giving guidance for crop cultivation via telephone or WhatsApp. We have equipped some farmers with smartphones to communicate with them. The rainy season is just beginning in Tanzania, so we cannot simply postpone the start of the farming season.  
 
What other measures have you been able to take? 
 
This week, we were able to rapidly deliver 7,000 trees to farming families in the villages. That makes five or six villages that can now plant trees to improve the soil, prevent erosion or provide the village with cattle feed.  
We are now providing advice, marketing and other activities as best as we can to improve food security during the crisis. Our slogan is: We are part of the food system. We cannot just stop working now. We are needed now more than ever.

Could markets close, as has happened in Switzerland? 
 
We hope not. That would be disastrous, because in Tanzania an estimated 30 per cent of the population cannot afford to stock up on supplies. Such measures would therefore have devastating consequences. The task now is to show alternative possibilities. For example, we offer a handwashing station in our organic food store, put the purchases together ourselves and offer cashless payment by telephone. 
 
How are you yourselves adjusting to the situation?  
 
We have had several meetings and created a Coronavirus committee that is working on specific plans. We are also waiting for and adapting to the guidelines issued by the government. 
We have ensured that everyone in the projects is active, either in the office or in the field. We will continue to conduct field visits, but only with individuals rather than groups.
We can also continue the participatory guarantee system. This system provides tools that we use to enable farmers to certify themselves under the “East African Organic Products Standard”. 
Additionally, we are renovating our shop. People should feel safe when they come to us. We also want to be a role model in dealing with this situation. 

Pius Paulini, one of the best organic farmers that delivers to SAT, produces througout the year and trained more than 100 famers in ecological farming techniques. Next to him is Mama Doreth, a well-known customer and nutrition expert who often sends vegetables to her relatives in Dar es Salaam. In the back stands Aron Nestory who works ambitiously in the SAT organic shop.

What are your plans for the near future? 
 
We hope that there will be opportunities to continue the training sessions again after April 10th. If not, we will have to expand how we work with communication technology. The internet connection is often not very stable here, which makes using the available technology more difficult. 
Aside from that, we are starting telephone surveys with the farmers to discuss specifically where and in what form help is needed.  
  
Do you have any hope that this crisis can have a positive impact?  
 
It is making us grow together globally and making us realize that functioning in this world is only possible together. I believe that the Coronavirus is an important wake-up call. If we don't do something about climate change now, we will slip into an even bigger crisis over the next 10 to 20 years. So this is an important event that forces us to think about our current lifestyle.  

I believe that everything we are facing, the discussion about hygiene, safety and everything in connection with the Coronavirus will help the case of organic farming. First, because organic farming it guarantees food security, and second, because converting to organic farming is also a good way of securing work. So I believe that this crisis is launching us into a new system. We must become aware of our wishes and objectives now so that we can keep them in mind once we have put the crisis behind us.