Thought for food: Teaching efficiency in East Africa

Thought for food: Teaching efficiency in East Africa

Women tending sweet potato crops in Tanzania. Photo: <a href= "http://www.flickr.com/photos/48639212@N02/5558400857/">The Gates Foundation (Flickr)</a>
Women tending sweet potato crops in Tanzania. Photo: The Gates Foundation (Flickr)

Sometimes one class is all it takes. One Maasai woman, recently selected for a course on potato seed farming, is now shipping seed by the ton.

Christine Nashuru lives in the southwestern region of the Rift Valley Province in Kenya in a traditional Maasai community. Cultural barriers and poverty blocked her access to formal education. Like other women in her community, she tried her hand at farming, but the results were less than spectacular. Until recently.

The International Potato Center (CIP) selected Nashuru to take part in a course that taught more efficient potato-farming practices. Traditionally, potato seeds require about seven generations to maximize yields. CIP taught Nashuru and others how to maximize in just three generations. In 2010, she sold 10.3 tons of potato seeds, and this year she hopes to top 80 tons.

Reducing the amount of time it takes to maximize yields means lower production costs and more flexibility to experiment with different varieties and tactics. CIP’s campaign has increased the yields of 15,000 farmers in East Africa by 20 percent. These farmers’ incomes are increasing, and so are the food stocks of their communities.

This campaign is targeted towards those with little education. The less-educated are prevented from reaching their full potential to help themselves and their communities. CIP is looking to change that by showing that one way to fill stomachs is to fill minds.

Ben Osborn is a 2011 graduate of Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon. Read his other contributions to Global Envision.

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