From crop calendar to business planning

Tanzanian farmers plan the application of organic fertilizers with a simple form of crop calendar. Together with the farmers we created a graphic that integrates all the activities of a season. This allows farmers to match their treatments and cultural activities as pruning and applications of mineral additives to rain season, crop development stages, and other periods of mayor incidences of pests and diseases. The photo shows a calendar for coffee (kahawa in Suahili)

Based upon this simple tool for planning activities we are able to start talking business with the farmers. this is because with this planning farmers build the bridge to start thinking in quantities of materials and ingredients and labor needed.

In june 2014, 25 farmers started a business planning course at coffee cooperative of Mbinga, Tanzania. The outcome of this course was a draft of a business plan that would allow farmers to join efforts to produce organic fertilizers and offer them to other farmers within their cooperative.

One year later, this business plan turned into real business as farmers are now producing  organic fertilizers for the first 100 customers and have a potential market of 1500 farmers and near 4000 hectares.


Water harvesting and the time machine


getting water from the first rains in Tigray, EthiopiaImage

Women know all about fermentation. They make beer and bread for generations. They have the skills to brew fertilizers. But women spend up to 6 hours a day on the average collecting water. Collecting rainwater task giving time to start a business, for example to brew organic fertilizers.

There is no African landscape without women carrying heavy loads of water.The lack of infrastructure for water supply in rural areas, forces women walk to fill their Jerry-cans and carry them for kilometers. A 20l Jerry-can is not enough for the household thus often the trip to the water source has to be done two or three times a day leaving no time for other things.

It is a fact. Soil fertility projects as well as many other development projects need to deal with the burden of lack of labor. Contrary to what it is normally reported the biggest burden is time, not skill. Women master the art of making honey wine, beer or cheese. During the workshops we find that women are much more aware of the process than men.  They can make compost and brew bio/fertilizers easily. They have the skill they just need to adapt it to soil.

Actually, on the average, a women spends 4,5 hours/day to carry water.water housekeeping and children. This leaves no time for something else. Saving some time to eliminate the burden of the time could allow women to make fertilizers, for themselves and even for their communities. But how to save  time?

We can make time in two ways: First, by using composting techniques that require less labor to compost (heap system) and the second is to less time in transporting water by harvesting rainwater.

A simple rain water harvesting water system of 1.000l. could save at least 550 wo-men hours. If only the half of this time would be used to produce and apply organic fertilizers at house hold (or community level) every single household could produce more and better food.

Moreover the quality of rainwater in rural areas is much better than any surface water source and many ground water sources.  Rainwater is a resource underused. A 1000 water tank, some pipes and a water-filter means an investment of 200 euro, per household (one year salary of a farmer). Where credit is not an option, the quest for cheaper designs reusing local materials, seem to offer the most promising alternative.

Tanzanian Farmer Training Centers

More than 2800 farmers in 4000 hectares of the Usambara’s mountains produce export quality organic coffee for decades. The last years farmers form the cooperative experienced decrease of coffee production and quality due to decline of soil fertility.

Agriterra and Rockin Soils organized in November 2012 the first training on composting with microorganisms in the Farm of the cooperative in Soni, Tanzania. A first group of 20 coffee farmers learned to gather waste materials form their farms, mix them with rock dust from local quarries, inoculate with local microorganisms and manage the fermentation process to produce compost and foliar organic bio-fertilizers. In July 2013 these farmers master the art of composting.They have tested their self produced bio-fertilizers in their own land and on different crops. The positive results of these first trials motivate them to go further and train their neighbors. A bunch of them converted their farms in Farmer Training Centers. Nothing official nor complicated, They just share their experiences.

The new Farmer Training Centers  in the Usambara Region will show farmers and future trainers how this technology works. In the next two years more than two thousand farmers in the region will receive training to use their farm’s waste and local agro-minerals to restore the natural fertility of their soils.

Rockin Soils Integrates simple instruments to restore the natural fertility of agricultural soils and ensure healthy food production systems by using local resources. Together with farmers we design and implement production systems that turn waste into organic fertilizers that feed the crop and increase its resistance to pest and disease. 

We learn from natural forests because they are strong and resilient. They harvest rain water and nutrients. They purify the soil, water and air and they enable diverse forms of life. Natural forests are very productive systems. Rockin Soils mimic conditions of natural forests to restore the fertility and multi-functionality of the agricultural soils.