Friday, April 26, 2013

Advancing Agriculture in Africa: Mixing Low Tech, High Tech and High Touch Solutions

Below are a photos of the administrative and teaching blocks of the Uyole Agriculture Training Institute and Uyole Agriculture Research Center, just a few kilometers outside of Mbeya City in the Southern Highlands of Tanzania, When I lived and worked there in the early 1980s, it was one of the premier training and research centers in the country.

I would take my diploma agriculture students into the villages where we helped farmers learn how to use their cows to plow and cultivate the land. For those unfamiliar with how animals can be used to conduct agricultural work, I'm posting below a YouTube video taken in the U.S. of one of the best trained teams I have ever seen.

Many decades have passed since I lived in Mbeya, but I found a Vimeo video uploaded in 2002 that captures the sights and sounds as I remember them many years ago. It is taken during the cold, dry, dusty season in Mbeya when one needs at least a sweater at dawn and dusk. The story line is of a young boy who seeks directions to a community skills training center in Mbeya from various roadside shops and friends playing soccer. He is unsuccessful until, in the second clip below, he locates a person at a carpentry shop who gives directions to the school.  

The relatively low tech agricultural solution of animal traction never seemed to gain much support in Tanzania, which still remains largely reliant on the hand hoe farming. There are a number of other low tech solutions such as the ingenious one published by Global Cycle Solutions. The clip below is taken from a longer Vimeo video in which GCS co-founder Jodie Wu gives her elevator speech about a bicycle powered maize (corn) sheller.

Mobile phones are pervasive throughout Tanzania and offer potential high tech solutions for agriculture. But this needs to be combined with high touch approaches that pay attention to social dynamics. The clip below is taken from a longer video about an IFAD project in Tanzania.It demonstrates how high tech solutions must be combined with high touch approaches in order to lead to sustainable results.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Mbeya's Hills and Southern Highland Parks

The Southern Highlands of Tanzania is stunning in its remote beauty. The two clips below are taken from a longer YouTube video recorded from a bus traveling through the towns and countryside in Mbeya Region. As the bus speeds up and then slows down, one can see the many shops along the road, people chatting in small groups, TV dishes on zinc-roofed houses, banana trees everywhere, and many other images that bring back good memories.

I can now smell the fresh air of the green rolling hillside as the bus breaks free from the cities and villages.

Let's take a drive in a heavily bicycled and pedestrian market street of Kyela which is a cocoa growing area along Lake Nyasa and which is the small city entrance to the neighboring country of Malawi. The clip below comes from a longer YouTube video.

Finally, when tourists think of Tanzania, they often think of the Serengeti, Mt. Kilimanjaro, and Ngorogoro Crater in the north and Zanzibar off the coast. Few know about Ruaha National Park, the largest national park in the country. The Ruaha National Park, along the Selous Game Reserve farther to the south and east, are largely undiscovered gems for those seeking a less traveled tourist path. The south of Tanzania has much beauty in nature and people.

Cameroon dancing to Tanzanian dancing

I returned to the U.S. from Cameroon in 1973. After working in Peace Corps recruitment and completing graduate degrees with an emphasis in international agricultural education/extension, I received a contract in July 1980 with an American university, which assigned me to a farmer's training project in Mbeya, Tanzania. The experience in the beautiful Southern Highlands until December 1985 cemented my relationship with sub-Saharan Africa for the rest of my career.

There are many diverse cultures within West African and East African nations. However, while East African dress is brightly colorful, the designs and materials tend to be simpler than those in West Africa. The music in East Africa often relies on percussion drums and basic horns, while West Africa also includes traditional bows and strings. This contrast between Western and Eastern Africa is immediately apparent in the dancing seen here when compared to the Cameroon dancing clips in the previous post.

Below are two clips of a dance by the Wanyakusa tribe, which is the predominant ethnic group in Mbeya where I lived for nearly six years. If one compares the longer versions of the first and second YouTube videos of the two clips below, one can more clearly see the same pattern that seem to reflect warrior dances of decades ago.

It would be a mistake to conclude that there is little pride in local culture, given the contrast to the more vibrant, boisterous, and costumed previous post from Cameroon. However, it is true the East Africa and Tanzania in particular has a more muted expression of its cultural past, which is heavily influenced by centuries of Arab presence and later the arrival of the Portuguese, Germans and British, who in turn welcomed Greek  and other European farmers and introduced Indians to the country in large numbers. The consequence is an accommodating and friendly atmosphere that gives a strong sense of a nation less torn by tribal rivalries that characterizes many of its immediate neighbors and their more distant continental neighbors to the West.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Kumba's Farms and Forests

After completing nearly three months of Peace Corps training in 1971, I was assigned to Kumba, then a city of 48,000 surrounded by plantain, oil palm, rubber and cocoa farms and relatively dense forests. I drew the short straw because all my fellow Volunteers were assigned more scenic and cooler climates.

Yet over the next two years Kumba became my home, which after several months I would not trade with any other Volunteer. I traveled by 125cc Suzuki to visit farmers in the area. Below is a clip from a longer YouTube video showing a typical farmstead of plantains that provided excellent shade for poultry projects, which was the core of my work as an agriculture extension agent of the Meme Division Agriculture Department Extension Services. The farmer praises his workers in Pidgin English, which I spoke relatively fluently once, for doing a good job of clearing the farm of weeds. The sound of rustling plantain leaves and the smell of the tropical soil are far different from those of the Iowa corn and bean fields.

During the rainy season it could be difficult to reach my farmers. The scene below from a longer YouTube video shows one truck trying to pull another from having slipped off the main road. The muddy roads of Kumba can be even more slippery than the snow covered roads of Iowa.

I can feel the warm breeze in this YouTube video of a motorcycle ride through Kumba's suburb of Fiango.

Below I can still smell the strange scents of colorful food in Kumba's open market, which after time smelled less strange but always remained pungent, in a clip of this video.

Since I left Kumba the population has increased by at least 100,000 inhabitants and with this surge in population, there is much pressure on the surrounding forests. Rapid deforestation by overseas-based timber companies was already an issue when I lived in Kumba, and I can only imagine that the need for local communities to band together to protect their forest from the companies and even themselves is even more important today. Below is a clip of a video describing the work of Canadian volunteers who are helping local officials to make informed decisions about how to manage their forests.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Dutch dancing to Cameroon dancing

In 1971 left rural Orange City IA (then about 3500 residents) for even more rural Cameroon to become a Peace Corps Volunteer. Our training was conducted in the beautiful highlands in the north of West Cameroon, which at the time still had its own Parliament in Buea. Men as well as women dress in colorful clothing, which is most striking during festivals and formal occasions such as the one below. One can see an outer and inner circle dancing. The complete video can be found here on YouTube.

What culturally was most striking for me, having been raised in a Dutch Reformed Church that treats funerals as very solemn occasions, is the way my new world celebrated the memory of the deceased. While living in Cameroon, I attended several of these celebrations that could last as long as a week. The original YouTube post, from which the two clips below are made, provides an informative description of many subtle cultural meanings. What is immediately apparent is how spontaneously individuals, pairs and groups form to express their emotions through dance.

Of course, one of the main motivations of joining Peace Corps for me and so many others is to experience a different cultural world. It underscored for me how one's own frame of reference is limited and how important it is to move out of one's comfort zone for the purpose of increasing international understanding.

Launching the Journey: Orange City IA

etMOOC has finished, but it has started me. I went back to my opening post introducing myself to the group using PhotoPeach. I decided to retrace that introduction but in more depth, building upon some of the other posts that followed. So the story begins on an Orange City IA farm. I discovered QuikMaps, which is an easy interface in generating Google Maps.

I also discovered a wonderful video on YouTube about Anamosa, Iowa, which I have edited for smaller clips that capture my world growing up on a small farm.

I remember too well the dusty, itchy, bouncing baling of hay in the fields and the milking of cows who swung their tails through the dirty gutters into my face as I hoisted the milkers onto the straps.

This clip rather accurately captures my recollection of my assigned chores in the care of beef cattle, pigs, poultry and sheep.

I remember accompanying my father to livestock sales that were critical markets for the family income.

Many thanks to Michael Ten Haken for his YouTube capture of the annual Orange City Tulip Festival where local  residents conduct dances and walk the streets with rough replicas of market carts from decades ago in the Netherlands.

All of the above is important only as a background to the following posts about my sojourn to sub-Saharan Africa.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Newspaper, Squirrel, Cat

I discovered a blogging website for students called It's a fun and easy website. One can create newspaper articles and animated gifs. Click on the newspaper for zoom view.


I noticed that the embedded gifsfrom the fodley. com site sometimes did not work, which is the first row. This may be more of a function of internet capacity here in Africa. Blogger won't accept gifs so I uploaded the gif embed code of the squirrel and the cat from, which is the second row.

Create your own Animation Create your own Animation Squirrel from photo SquirrelOne_zps52f1cf0a.gif Cat from photo Cat_zpsbbc0240f.gif

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Free Mosquito Bednets: Good or Bad?

etMOOC may have finished but it can score a success in having motivated me to continue testing various digital tools. Below are two Voki characters that give different view points on whether it is a good idea to give free bednets to keep malaria carrying mosquitoes away. The debate is much more extensive than can be treated here, but it provides the core arguments.

Friday, April 5, 2013


In 1896 postal letter carriers in the United States began Rural Free Delivery (RFD) as an experiment in a few rural communities, but the pressure upon Congress to expand the program was enormous. By 1901 there were nearly 77,000 post offices providing RFD, and by 1902 RFD had been established in nearly every state. As the first short video below shows, there were detractors in Congress who asserted that RFD was too expensive. Private companies using road and rail service also tried to stop RFD from carrying larger packages. But the power of the Grange farmer organization, which took on the role of advocating for meeting the social needs of and combating the economic backwardness of farm life, won the battle for RFD on behalf of rural citizens.


This second video, which appears to be the excellent work of student(s), describes in more detail how mail order catalog companies using RFD transformed the lives of rural citizens. As we shall see later, this same transformation is now occurring in countries like the Republic of South Africa (RSA), but using different technology that is moving benefits to the rural communities at even a faster speed.

Telkom is a company run and owned by the RSA government that provided landline telephone services to the country for decades. In 1993 the government awarded contracts two cell phone providers. The first contract went to Telecom itself, which partnered with Vodafone of the UK and the Rembrandt Group of South Africa. The new company was called Vodacom. Consumers rapidly embraced cell telephony, which innovated quickly, driving cell use prices downwards, thereby accelerating the number of mobile phone users.

Mobile phones now connect rural communities into the larger RSA economy, which we see in this Davos Notebook blog video clip below. More than 75% of the population of 50 million are cell phone users in the country. Cell phones are not only connecting the rural population to the world of commerce, but also to better health services, agricultural support, and education. Just as RFD and mail order companies transformed the life of rural citizens in the USA, so too the cell phone is uplifting rural lives in the RSA and sub-Saharan Africa in general.