Tanzania: an enlightening experience

Guest Author: Lindsay Wilner

I recently returned from working as a Volunteer Consultant for TechnoServe in Tanzania. Coming in with limited agricultural knowledge, I left with what feels like an additional Master’s degree…which is to say, I learned a ton during my 3.5 months there. It’s difficult to imagine that I could have gone through two years of development-oriented studies during my MA in International Relations and very rarely touched the topic of Agriculture. I was even an Energy, Resources, and Environment concentrator! Why is this so surprising? Well, if not for anything else but that the economy of many African nations is primarily agrarian based. In Tanzania, agriculture provides jobs for 80% of the population.

My role as a Volunteer Consultant was to conduct an Industry Strategic Plan for the mango and potato industries. Essentially, it was to look at ways TechnoServe could help farmers who were growing these crops to double their income. This included anything from tactical measures to improve crop yield to more strategic concepts such as building farmer relationships with exporters or processors.

During my time, I met with stakeholders such as government officials, university professors, industry experts, processing plant general managers, wholesalers and retailers, and, most frequently, farmers. One of the most remarkable things I discovered was that the farmers in Tanzania have this insatiable desire to learn. The passion with which they spoke regarding their jobs and their constant demanding of more knowledge leads me to believe that these farmers could be destined for great entrepreneurial pursuits… if only they were given access to that knowledge. For a farmer who has never left a 20 square kilometer distance from his village, which is situated a 2 hour drive from the closest town, it is almost impossible for him to receive the information and training he needs to help bring his family out of poverty (and this most certainly applies to women as well, who represent a large number of total farmers in Tanzania). Unless, of course, he resides in one of the lucky villages that was selected for a pilot project by an NGO, a private sector enterprise, or the government.

Providing farmers with knowledge and crucial business planning skills is the most fundamental step in lifting farmers out of poverty.   It all comes down to education and access to information.  For now, due to corruption and the financial limitations of many African governments, outside aid will be necessary to help bolster farmer education.  However, it is my hope, that governments of some of the poorest African nations will realize that education is the only way out of the vicious poverty cycle.   I speak primarily about farmer education here because it is fundamental and could have enormous immediate repercussions.  However, in reality, this is just one small piece of the puzzle.  A strong well-rounded education is needed to help these farmers and their progeny drive entrepreneurial ideas, and think outside the box.

About the author: I am a 2011 dual MBA/MA graduate from the Tuck School of Business and the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, where I specialized in Energy, Resources, and the Environment. An enthusiast of conservation tourism, I worked with Raxa Collective on their branding and conservation strategy as a student at Tuck. Previously, I spent a year in Argentina conducting ecotourism market research and I am currently a management consultant at Bain & Company in Boston.

One thought on “Tanzania: an enlightening experience

  1. Pingback: Welcome To Raxa Collective’s Learning Laboratory, Cardamom County |

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s