Well, I am recovering from a parasite I contacted a few weeks ago. the medical people in Arusha did a very good job of diagnosing and getting me back to health. This was the first time in all my travels that I got hit with such a problem. It is all good now and I am back to working.
I delayed my return to the states again. I will spend Christmas here in Tanzania. I made the decision because we are supposed to get our driller to drill next week. We have waited for a well since May of this year and I did not want to chance another delay.
We were invited to meeting in Arusha today with several large NGO’s. Their focus is to promote interfaith relationships. I was appreciative of the invitation and look forward to the possibility of working or assisting in some way. I will update as things progress.
Our small enterprise projects seem to be moving along. I say seem because almost every week we encounter an issue. Nothing that can not be overcome but it does stress that we need to manage and mentor the groups through the infancy stage.
Our shop is doing well now. I have just hired a new shop keeper. I have been filling the position for the last two months and it has been interesting. Selling groceries to a Maasai who does not speak englis and me no Massai has been entertaining at best.
I still need to work out access to the internet so I can communicate with my friends and family on a more regular basis. Lou, Patsy, Rick and Pam, I have not forgotten you but it is very difficult to get internet access. I only have a few minutes to write this as I need to take th ethree hour journey back home. I hope to have more time soon.
Every day a new adventure. The bore hole pump went out a week ago Sunday. This could have been disaster since we had just planted our next crop at the farm. It looks like we averted disaster as the rains came just at the right time to allow us to continue while the service team repairs the pump motor. If all goes well the pump should be installed this week and we should be back on track.
I am leaving for the States on 1 April and returning to Tanzania on 1 May. If all goes well the farm should be in good shape as the combination of the rains and warm weather should produce the results we are hoping for. If successful with this planting we will try our hand at watermelons again. We have learned a lot and hopefully are on the right track now. things are looking better every day.
We have ideas for several additional projects but want to wait until we put together a sustainable model for the garden before diluting our efforts to the new projects. If we are blessed with success we could be profitable by end of this year. If so we could invest in several enhancements such as the greenhouses. the yield in greenhouse farming are significantly higher than traditional farming in this region due to the coolness of the weather here.
there is much to do and look forward to.
I will not blog until May as I will be traveling visiting friends and family.
I have tried to post for the last five days but the network here has not cooperated. I am grateful for that in as I would probably have posted some negative comments. I realize, but need to remind myself often, that there would be resistance to the work that needs to be done here. I told myself that I was prepared for this and could handle anything that could happen. The good news is I have met resistance, but not from the village where I expected it. I was not totally prepared for it but I have been able to get strengthened by the events. No need to post what has happened since it was not harmful physically and it only made my acceptance by the community stronger. I am looking forward to see what is next for our efforts.
The garden is moving along, slower that I would like , but this may be the best way for us to establish a team without my intervention. The new crops are in the process of being planted and we have added another half acre to the field. I would have hoped we would have had everything planted already but still one and a quarter acres to go. I am not sure why we are moving slower than expected but we are trying to figure out ways to add some motivation to the team. I feel we have good people now and only need to continue to encourage and coach a little. I believe the distractions I encountered may have slowed the work. Now that the issues seem to be resolved I hope to see the work effort speed up a little. I am staying in the background as I have said and am only coaching one of the leaders here who I have much faith in his abilities. He should be the one to continue the work once I move on to other projects.
I several other projects that I feel have potential to add to the income expected from the garden. Once we can establish the garden as sustainable, I hope to initiate these other programs. We will take what we have learned form the garden project about motivation and apply it to the other programs.
I am off to see my goats. every man in this are has at least a few goats. They tell me real Maasai have cattle, goats and sheep. I tell them I am still a white man just acting like a Maasai. I can only afford goats and only a few of them at that. We are having fun.
The farm seems to be headed in the right direction. We found an experienced manager who will work for a small salary and a percentage of the net profits. He is running things without any input from me so far. If this crop of tomatoes, carrots, green peppers and spinach comes in on time we will have time to plant melons for the July market. This would be good as the margins in July are great for melons. If his projections are close and I am factoring his interview optimism with what we have learned we could break even by end of this year and have a model that will produce income for the school from that point on if managed correctly. There are several other projects which I think have potential to add to the revenue stream besides the farm. I will outline these to the organization who runs the school for their follow up.
I have enjoyed working at the school for the most part. Seeing the children every day is very uplifting and helps me appreciate why I came. The Maasai people are a real pleasure to live with. They treat me like a very welcomed part of their community. I hope to find ways to continue to help and support this community and region. There are many in the region who need help and I am looking into ways to expand my efforts to reach those outside the MIS project. I will update as things progress.
It has been a very eventful few days. The farm manager and I could not agree on his role and responsibilities so he left with one of the workers he brought from his home town. The news is not all bad though. If one believes in what they are doing and has patience things will work out for the good. We have a man who is just getting over an illness who is a good worker and wants to work for us. We also found a Kenyan who has experience working with watermelons who is interested in joining us. We will be planting two acres of watermelons in the next week and should have a crop to sell by April. We also will be planting one half acre of vegetables to sell to local markets. We expect good margins on these crops as we do not compete with brokers in pricing our products. the total from the vegetables is not very high but the profits are very good and it will help the local community with fresh produce.
The new workers will be paid on a performance basis. A small salary and a percentage of the profits. I am hopeful that this motivates them to take the work personally and not look at it just as a pay cheek. I believe the problem with the last planting was overpaying with the workers not motivated to do anything other than what I dictated to them. This is not the model for sustainability as I am not a farm manager and do not intend to run this place as such.
It is very rewarding to see the local villagers respond with such gratitude for our efforts. Their support makes the trials seem trivial. I am thankful for them and feel more motivated than when I first arrived. The politics in the school are interesting and interfere with our progress but I guess where ever one goes there will be strife. I will write more on this next blog as we have a meeting to discuss issue on Monday. I am looking forward to this meeting. It should be very interesting.
Well, the melons are sold and the lessons are being digested. First we did not get close to the yields we forecast. Our initial analysis is that we did not water enough during critical times. We believed we were doing the right amount each day but during the flowering stage it looks like we fell a bit short. Also during the flowering stage we may have needed extra bees for pollination. We will address the watering on our next planting and we are importing bees from the local association of bee keepers. they are happy to assist as we will have plenty of flowers for their bees and we will benefit from them as well.
lesson two was we over paid for labor. Our labor cost was out of line with the yields and with the competition. we have met with the laborers and they understand and are willing to work to a task each day. The bonuses I was paying each week has stopped and any bonus will be paid at harvest time if we get the returns we hope for. Everyone is aware of the goals and how we arrived at them. I am pleased to see that the team has accepted and is willing to work towards these goals.
Third we learned and are growing our network to market our goods. We worked in advance prior to our first harvest but could not get any interest until we had product. Once we had product we made several contacts who boght from us. They said we had the best product for the particular season but still beat us down on price. We now have three potential buyers and can pre negate the next crop with them.
We are now in the process of reworking the beds for the second planting. We should be ready to plant all beds in two weeks. this turn around is two months faster than the initial work to make the farm plantable. We could plant the first half acre now but are still negating with the brokers as to the timing and crop they will pay the most for. Hopefully this will be done in thee next few days and we can start getting seeds in the ground.
Even though the first planting was a financial failure we learned many valuable lessons. We hope to use this knowledge to continue to move toward our goal of profitability to help they school towards its sustainability requirements.
I mentioned in earlier blogs that I have another project that I believe is a straight forward winner. We have four acres that we could use to raise zero grazing dairy cows. We could plant feed for at least three cows. The initial investment is twenty thousand USD. The return would be less than two years and would greatly serve the school and the local community. I am hoping to get a no interest or low interest loan to start this project.
We have had sponsors in from Arizona this week and another group in next week. It is always great to have visitors in so they can share the story of the progress that is being made. I believe it is important to let the donors know that the money they sacrifice for this mission is being used as they wish.
I am looking forward to this next phase to see how everyone pulls together towards the set goals. It has been encouraging to date, even though there has been some challenges.
When the going gets tough the Marines call in the Army. I am sure you can tell I served in the Army. this is for all my jar head friends and family. I know they appreciate a dose of the truth.
Well we started to sell the watermelons this week. It has been an experience. I am sure it is similar anywhere as the middle man here controls the market. We anticipated this and worked hard to find as many brokers as we could but they still have the upper hand. the good news, we should sell all the melons. The bottom line we did not get close to the yield we expected nor the price we needed. Lesson learned. We will take this and adjust for the next season. I wish I could say what exactly that means but I don’t know yet. YOur prayers would greatly be appreciated. We need to learn and then teach the school how to make money on the crops.
We have sponsors in this week and next. It is always a good time to greet them and show them what their money is doing for the kids. Those that give deserve to know that their money is not being wasted and is providing the education and environment that they envision for their sponsored children. Every visit is different but mostly good ideas are shared and memories are taken home.
We are expanding the farm to include a small vegetable garden. This will serve the local villages as we will only grow the types of vegetables they eat and only the quantities that they will use in the four villages within 30 miles of our farm. We feel this will provide a reliable food supply for the locals and should show a fair margin for the school. I will update as we go.
Drip systems are being installed for the banana and moringa trees. We have tried to hand water but the labor cost and time is prohibitive. More short term cost but should pay off over the years.
I will be discussing the dairy project with the sponsor team. I am a little surprised no one has stepped up to loan us the $20,000 for the project yet even though I promised to put their name on the barn. I am sure this project will go forward. I believe it will enhance both our image in the community. provide milk to the villagers all year and pay for itself in less than two years. Again I will keep you posted.
all else is good. We are in-between the short rains and the long rainy season. The shot rains did set the farm back, another lesson for next year. I think we have a good plan for the rainy next three months.
I am in Arusha selling the melons but I have no water again at my rental house. I believe someone knows my schedule and is punishing me for leaving the village. Back to Mairowa to complete selling and start installing the tree systems.
Well, 2013 is almost over and I have to say it will go down as one of the most interesting years of my life. It started with my expectation of moving to Tanzania in January but that plan hit a snag when the organization I am supporting wanted me to wait until they cleared me through the local people. I was a bit taken back but understood my plans are not always in sync with god’s plans for me. I did get clearance from the local team and they were vey gracious and helpful once I arrived here at the end of May. The clearance and then visa permits took a while.
I came with the hope of helping find some income generating projects that the schools or the NGO could run to make money to offset the decline in sponsor money which is planned over the next several years. I really had no idea what I would find or ultimately do, but trusted that my experiences in business would lead to something. It was apparent that the NGO team here was very capable and had several good ideas but could not generate a plan that they could sell to the donors to raise the necessary capital to fund the ventures. After a month or so I concluded that the land at the Mairowa school had the potential to generate income with the right focus and plan. In July I found funding in the form of a no interest loan to start to grow watermelons on the two plus acres we have behind the school. All of those who know me are aware of the fact that I am not a farmer, but I could follow a plan and hire the right people. We had many set backs. Labor problems with the first workers resulted in them walking off job. This ended up to be a blessing as we hired two people three days later who work twice as fast, don’t complain and are satisfied that we provide a good work place for them. We installed a drip irrigation system since we live in a very arid climate. We overpaid for the system but could not live without it. Next we had problems with the wild animals. First Dik-Dik a small deer like antelope. Then came the rats, followed by the monkeys and finally the turtles. We fight the monkeys and turtles every day. We have lost our share of fruits but I guess this is the cost of farming in the African bush.
We are two weeks away from our first ripe melons. We have been researching the available markets and feel we will be able to sell all 20-30,000 melons in the month and a half of harvesting. We missed the high market of December but have been assured that we can still sell all in the city and surrounding villages. We will see.
Since we think we learned a few things about watermelon from this planting we will replant the next crop in melon also. We are developing a half acre vegetable garden to supply the local villages with a variety of vegetables. The markets are not large but the margins are better than in the city. This will be our experiment into selling vegetables. If successful we will plant more next rotation.
I am wanting to fence the four acres we have next to our farm and raise dairy cows. if we have three cows and do not graze hem but raise their feed. we believe we can get 30 to 40 liters a day per cow. This would pay for itself in less than one year and supply the village with milk all year. The Maasai raise cows but they do not produce enough milk for the families, especially in the dry season. If anyone want to loan us $20,000 no interest loan payable in two years please sign up via the reply button. I will put your name on the cattle stalls!!!
I am in Arusha cooking pasta fazzoli and looking forward to returning to Mairowa. It has been a very rewarding year and I am looking forward to the excitement and challenges that are ahead next year.
I have travel a bit in my life. Seeing every continent except Antarctica, and most major cities from the USA, Europe and Asia, but I have never spent Christmas south of the equator. This is a first. It really isn’t much different than celebrating in Arizona or Houston Texas, the weather is warm and the people are just as festive. It will be one for the book if I can ever get someone to write it.
Other news, the rains have come. This is very good and very bad. The good is the country side has turned green almost overnight. It is beautiful and it feeds the animals both domestic and wild. The bad is we are losing watermelon to rot. first we had the dik-dik, then the rats followed by the monkeys now the rain. We have lost crops but still are optimistic. The lesson learned is get the crops in by early December before the rains and before the holidays so everyone can relax and be with their families. One step at a time and if we pay attention we just might learn to be farmers. I really have a much deeper respect for those who make their living providing food for the rest of us.
I celebrated my birthday last sunday at the boma with goat and sodas. It was different than most years but i believe everyone had a good time. Goat is always a local hit on the menu.
I will be staying in the village for christmas so the workers can be home with their families for Christmas. the three live far from the village and understand that we will plan better next year so they can take more time off. It is good to have a team that is pulling in the same direction. this gives hope for the sustainability of the school and it’s future.
I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year,