Monday, June 06, 2005


Coping Strategy to Ensure Food Security

By Isaria K. Mwende*

Our grand parents are the creators of the biological knowledge (medicine, agriculture and ecosystems). The historical contribution of indigenous and farming communities to modern science is enormous. Actually, modern science picked up from the indigenous knowledge. The indigenous people engaged in some kind of research, though not in the way it is done today by modern science, in that way they built up a store house of useful information, knowledge and experience which was passed on from one generation to the other. It is in this way they were able to negotiate their way through the wilderness until the arrival of modern science championed by people like Isaac Newton. Unfortunately until very recently, modern science neglected the traditional knowledge.

I remember very well when I was young how my grandmother, Ndenengo used to select and store seeds for the next season. Before storing the seeds she used to dry them in the sun. To keep insects away from them, she used to mix the seeds with fine ashes and dried leaves of some plants growing naturally in our area. These seeds were sometimes exchanged with friends and relatives, among other things, for trials in their fields - differing in soils and cultural practices. They latter shared the experience. This is the kind of experimentation they did. By then there was no extension worker in the village. The one who used to visit our village once in a blue moon was mainly interested in the coffee trees. My grandmother was only applying the traditional knowledge she acquired from her parents.

My grand mother used to maintain small garden plots; locally known as ndima, along side the coffee and banana field margins. In the garden she used to grow local varieties of vegetables and root and tubers. They include (some of the food crops grown on these gardens I do not know their names in English or Kiswahili): Amaranth or mchicha, solanium spp or mnavu, shia sha nda, taro or majimbi and yams or viazi vikuu. The garden used to provide cheap but quality supplement to the ordinary diet. Some of the vegetables like mnavu and mchicha were allowed to grow along side the banana and coffee trees. These were fast growing and therefore could be harvested in a short time and were used to prepare relishes to eat ugali made from maize, cassava or banana flours or a mixture of them. As my grandmother grew old, no one took over the ndima. The main reason is neglect because the traditional farming knowledge was considered obsolete in the dawn of modern farming and exotic crops. What my grand mother used to cultivate was considered low-status food. It was not valued, but stigmatized as a poor man’s food. She and her peers were the only custodian of the traditional knowledge.

When my grandmother died, she died with the knowledge. The traditional plants she used to cultivate were no longer cultivated. They have fallen into disuse and now they have almost disappeared. While the loss of knowledge does not imply the loss of the plant itself, it is almost likely the case since with the decline in the knowledge of the production and uses of the plant; the interest in its conservation is lost. Most of the crops my grandmother used to grow on her small gardens are no longer available. Many of those we see today are exotic varieties. The small gardens were a common place in our village, Mowo in Old Moshi, as well as the neighboring villages. The production of these food crops was purely organic - No chemicals were used. Crop failure was not a common thing. The various crop species and varieties in the ndima gardens represented years of both natural selection for survival and farmer selection for easier production and better quality. These species had a good resistance to prevalent pests, compete well with weeds, and had a generally high level of genetic variability.

Apart from the food staffs my grand mother knew some traditional medicines, for example ‘ngenzi’ and ‘shilaho’, which were used to treat round worms and tape worms. She also used to prepare a traditional tea from ‘mara njuki’. The tea has a good taste and aroma. The tea leaves were collected from the wild. I am not sure whether they are still available.

While my grand mother tended the traditional gardens, my mother Eliadanyia, also used to cultivate small gardens, a bit far from our home. In the gardens she used to cultivate the ‘modern’ vegetables – mainly cabbage, spinach, onions and carrots. These were cultivated under irrigation and the use of artificial fertilizers. She used to sell the farm produce at our local village market at Kimochi, Rindima in Kirua Vunjo and Kiboriloni in Moshi. These vegetables fetched a good price in the market place because the exotic food crops had become more prestigious than the traditional ones.

What I witnessed was a transition from cultivating traditional to exotic food crops in our area. This phenomenon is still going on all over the country. As a result, the traditional food crops are facing extinction leading to loss of biological diversity. It is now very evident that we are losing the options we need to strengthen food security and survive the global climate change. Sometimes we face food shortages for no apparent reason. Not because of bad weather or pests as it is often claimed, but because people have neglected the traditional crops that did well in their locality. For example, instead of sorghum, millet and cassava, people have concentrated on maize, which is not suitable for the unreliable and erratic rainfall patterns characteristic of the area.

We are now learning the hard way, that some of the traditional food crops were more adapted to our environment local climate and soil than the exotic ones. They are good at resisting common local pests and dry spells. Many plant cultivars grown as food crops in tropical countries have originated from Europe or other temperate latitudes. They may have been bred to enhance particular qualities such as size, color, water content, toxicity, etc. They often have little natural resistance to pests and diseases and have effectively been designed for high fertilizer and pesticide inputs. The resistance that is expressed by a given crop cultivars in temperate regions has been shown to break down sometimes in the tropics. This is a fact we cannot continue to ignore any more.

Contrary to what many people think, the Wachagga used to cultivate and eat cassava product! Only that the cassava was used for ugali. It is the ‘bitter variety’. This type of cassava contains a high concentration of cyanogenic glucoside, a substance which as it breaks down, produces poisonous hydrocynic acid. To make the cassava safe for human consumption, it was processed: Peeling the tubers, soaking or steeping in water for a few days and then drying them in the sun. In this way the toxic constituents were removed. The dried cassava was then ground into fine flour for making ugali.

Apart from the death of the ndima gardens, the Wachagga have managed to maintain up to now a very special kind of farming system in their plantations known as Kihamba. These are larger plots where they construct their homesteads. Here food crops are grown under the canopies of banana and coffee. The intensive cropping system involves the integration of several multi purpose trees and shrubs with food and cash crops and livestock on the same unit of land. Within this cropping system several agro-forestry practices are carried out, including the use of multipurpose trees and shrubs: To provide shade for coffee, as live fences, to provide medicinal herbs, building materials, firewood, fodder, mulch and bee forage. Maize and beans are cultivated further away from the homesteads on separate plots in the lower part of the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro. This system of production is very effective but now is coming under pressure from rapid population growth, diminishing land resources and changes in dietary habits. The migration of youngsters to urban areas not only leads to labour shortages but also contribute to further disruption of the traditional transmission from one generation to the next of the knowledge and experience required for the successful management and perpetuation of the complex multi-cropping system.
Knowledge is among the most important factors determining a nation’s standard of living. There is a growing recognition that the continuous innovation of farmers and indigenous knowledge of people could play a major role in contributing to improved agricultural production. Efforts should be made to serve the farming system observed in Kilimanjaro among the Wachagga. The system enables the farmer to sustain production with a minimum of external inputs; it provides a good model of land use for extrapolation to other areas with similar ecological and socio-economic characteristics. Farmers should be encouraged to adapt it country wide where the climate allows. It should not be allowed to die a natural death as the ndima. This is a very important and valuable heritage we cannot allow to lose in our efforts to ensure food security in the country. T o combat frequent crop failures, people should be encouraged to cultivate and use crops that are appropriate for the climatic conditions prevailing in their areas, especially the traditional ones. Education and improving the way food is prepared can make a big difference

Tuesday, May 03, 2005


ADVERTISEMENTS:Manipulation of innocent people

By Isaria K. Mwende

This world is a giant negotiating table, and whether you like it or not you are a participant. We normally negotiate more than we realize. Sales clerks andservice providers are among the people we most frequently negotiate with. In most cases we do not negotiate with them on fair grounds. Advertising plays a substantialrole in this phenomenon.With the growing of the media - increasing number of magazines, news papers, TVs and radio stations, people are bombarded with hundreds of advertising messages daily: Services (transport, medical, horoscope etc), clothes, vehicles, dental creams, soap, cosmetics, soft drinks, beer, even cigarettes! The advertising industry is growing. Advertising is important because it creates awareness to the consumers about products available in the market. It helps to create demand for the products. It enablesthe consumer to choose from a number of products available in the market place.

Together with the meritorious intention of creating awareness and broadening the spectrum of choice to consumers on the availability of products suitable to meet their needs, there are gimmicks been used in advertisements. Most people are not aware of them, because they are prepared by clever artists, photographers, technicians and writers.

Most of the wonders promised in advertisements are not true. These day to night bombardments from the media are just meant to convince us that we need what theyare selling. Advertisements play with our emotions, that is why they use sports, beautiful ladies, famous artists and stars. They also use sexy images and fancy words to capture our attention, other wise, what has these to do with the quality of the product on sale?They will send you a message that you have to be up to date. But if we ponder this deeper - to whose benefit? Deep down one may be worried indeed about the state of his/her budget - how to make ends meet, on top of that he is been seduced to be modern. The modeling industry is a very good example. What makes a dress or a pair of shoes out of date? Do our sisters really need to change from time to time their hairstyles, clothes,skin colour - just to get modern? Even at the expense of one's health! Can a given brand of soap or detergent actually restore a piece of soiled cloth to new, so that it can be put back to the shop counter without a consumer noticing the difference? Really! But this is exactly what the adverts tell us.

The public need to be made more conscious of the methods used by advertisers to work on peoples psychological vulnerability - their pride, their sense of identity with their own generation, their own social group or the one they are climbing toward, sympathies, their desire to look more beautiful, younger, virile, more bold, etc. The advertisers worldwide are succeeding in making people change their very living and spending habits. That is why they are ready to spend lots of money in the advertising industry. The consumer himself meets these expenses in the final analysis. It is estimated that the price of a product may go up for up to 40% due to advertisement costs.

The advertisers succeed due to their contrived attacks on our logic and sense of reality. On one hand, they try to exploit the power of the fear in people to be different. The fear to be only a few steps away from the herd. Most people are not aware of how they are driven to conform. They live under the illusion that they follow their own inclinations and instincts, that they have arrived at their opinions and decisions as a result of their own thinking and that it just happened that their ideas and decisions are the same as thoseof the majority. Not knowing it is due to the power of the bombardments from the advertising messages, leading to acceding to the temptation to buy justbecause every one else is doing so.On the other hand, advertisers try to exploit the propensity of man to be a step ahead of the other, the desire to be great, important, the desire to excel: The desire your children to attend a better school than those of your neighbour. We brag about the quality of our watches. That's why the advertising messages will constantly tell you that this product is better than the rest. One's mind captures the message and goes with it.Another method used by the advertisers is sexual arousal. They know that sexual desire is the most powerful of human desires. They then embed sexual titillation in their advertising messages, using pictures, sounds or words. These messages are not vivid, they are hidden, so they appear ordinary. It is only the unconscious part of one's mind that is capable of recognizing and storing these messages where they lie dormant, un-criticized, unevaluated and unknown to the individual until the time of purchase, when decision is required. The buried information then surfaces and is transferred to the conscious mind, which acts upon it. If one is thirsty for example, the unconscious mind immediately decides the type of drink the person has to take, depending on the messagesinstilled earlier from the advertisements. No reason and no logic is used, because the unconscious mind is incapable of this.All these things, in one way or another, help to mould the attitudes of people - of your attitude - and hence the thoughts and finally the actions of all of us.

The bombardment is torrential. In these ways thousands of people are daily massaged and manipulated. Thissuppresses the right of individuals to decide on their own free will, making people to pursue false goals and values. Of course the marketing experts are groping for ways to keep sales soaring in the face of mounting saturation. To avoid glut they need gluttons. Our consumer society was not built in a day. There was a time most of these items being advertised today, were rare commodities in Tanzania some years back. We used to buy them through rationing. This is gone now. Under the structural adjustment programme, manufactures (the private sector) have flooded the markets with new products and ever changing, but not necessarily of higher quality. Constantly the cry is to update. They will tell you that this detergent has such and such new ingredients. The question is, does it wash better than the rest? Already, in the developed countries, advertisements are creating environmental problems. Many items - clothes, shoes, utensils, TVs, furniture, etc are thrown away, because they are no longer fashionable rather than because they are worn out. "Junk mail" is another problem. The term is used to describe advertising and promotional material, which is sent to individuals un-requested. These also end up in thedustbin, creating enormous waste to deal with. If we are making such a loud noise about violence against women and child labour, why no one speaks about this very crucial violation of human rights?

We buyers need to take heed. No less important are changes in the way we perceive things. Every time one is exposed to commercials or advertising messages of any kind, one must remind himself that in most cases these are propaganda designed to convince him that other people's opinions are more important than his. Since not all advertising messages are bad, we must learn to ask ourselves, what kind of information didwe get out of it that which might help us decide whether that product might really be good and useful for us to buy. We should learn to tune into those few that really do offer a good deal on something one might find useful in his life, basing on the actualneeds.

We should learn to see things the way they really are, to know our options, test our assumptions and act on a solid information. Money comes hard. Why waste hard-earned money?Apart from knowing the nebulous tricks used in advertisements, commercials, placards, promotional pamphlets and leaflets, people need to be educated on how to spend their money wisely. This should be one of the main subjects given during the final year in primary school. Seeds need to be planted early at this stage of learning. Children are more adaptive and responsive. What they learn is brought home to their families and the community at large. Secondary schools and colleges should also include this subject in their curricular. In this process of change towards global economic integration and a world economy characterized by the liberalization of trade, globalization of capital markets and rapid diffusion of advanced technologies and consumption patterns, such knowledge is absolutely necessary. Most of us have been trained as money earners and not as spenders. As a result, we learn it the hard way, sometimes, paying very high prices.

Our governments have also an onus. If dangerous and poisonous substances like agrochemicals (fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides herbicides, rodenticides, etc) are labelled and advertised misleadingly due to the present marketing competition, it will lead to misuse and mishandling of these substances. This will pose a health risk to the farm worker, the consumer of the farm products and the community as a whole. We allneed to eat and we all need to be safe! Actually, our governments have a duty to care for the citizens. They should take the lead in orchestrating action to save people from the junk being advertised through the media. Who else can come to our rescue from thispredicament! Government should establish institutions that will scrutinize and ensure that the commercials and advertisements do not merely cheat people callously. The institutions should have power and authority to expose publicly the techniques that operate against the public interest. It should make sure that people are not manipulated, cheated, lied to or exploited by unscrupulous traders. In some countries the advertisement of cigarettes is against the law. This is a good example to be adopted worldwide, because the proposition that cigarette smoking is hazardous to human health is no longer controversial, it is a scientific fact.

There is no doubt that when people are manipulated, regardless of the motives, the right to decide for themselves is taken away as well as what they want to do and who they want to be. After all said, we need more critically today than at any other time, a truly democratic world in all senses. The availability of reasonable choice! The forces of competition must be set to work in the public interest. We should be allowed to exercise our free will