Tomato Farmers Reach New Markets in Tanzania

Martha Mtenda once struggled to make a living through her half-acre farm in the village of Mbigili in Iringa, a region in Tanzania's Southern Highlands.

The 39-year-old mother of four grew food crops to feed her family, but earned little income from her tomato crop because of poor quality and limited access to markets. Martha, like many farmers in her community, had no choice but to accept the low prices offered by middlemen who would visit her farm.

“Life was hard,” Martha said. “I could not afford to send my children to school, nor could I afford health care for my family. We only had two meals a day and could barely afford proper housing.’’

In early 2010, TechnoServe held a meeting for Martha and other farmers in her community. Our business advisors explained how the farmers could benefit by selling their produce together through a business group. In March 2010, Martha and others formed the Mlamke Producer Business Group. Through the group, Martha and nearly 50 other members have received training on both tomato production and basic business skills, and have set up a market collection point where they can bring their tomatoes to be sold in bulk.

By selling through the group, Martha receives a price three times higher than what she earned previously. With the extra income, she is able to send her children to school and feed them a wholesome diet. She also upgraded her mud and grass thatch house to a more secure brick home.

Thousands of families are benefiting from similar improvements through the Sustainable Horticulture for Income and Food Security in Tanzania (SHIFT) program, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. The SHIFT program aims to more than double the incomes of 9,000 smallholder farmers by connecting them to better markets and boosting their productivity.

TechnoServe is assisting tomato, avocado, cocoa and mushroom producers in three regions of Tanzania, one of the world’s poorest countries. Our advisors are training these producers in best agricultural practices and helping them to form and strengthen business groups of 30 to 70 farmers. TechnoServe also is working with food processors, avocado exporters and tomato traders to enhance the efficiency of their operations and create demand for smallholder tomato and avocado growers.

These small-scale farmers face a number of obstacles to earning higher incomes. On their own, smallholder farmers have poor bargaining power. They typically sell to the informal market for low prices. For tomatoes, the largest vegetable crop in Tanzania, a TechnoServe study showed that farmers earn only 10 percent of the crop’s value when selling to the fresh market, and only 2 percent when selling to the processed market.

By banding together in business groups, the farmers are able to sell their produce in bulk, connect to better markets and realize more of the crop’s value. The business groups offer a forum to improve farming skills through training and demonstration plots. And the members of business groups are better able to access critical inputs and services such as seeds, fertilizers, irrigation systems and credit.

TechnoServe also has facilitated the construction of market collection points, physical structures where farmers can bring their produce to be sorted, packaged and sold. Each collection point is owned by a producer business group but also serves several more, giving the farmers even greater bargaining power.

The collection point makes it easier for farmers to connect to buyers, and the structure helps protect easily damaged tomatoes. TechnoServe has assisted tomato farmers in building a total of fifteen collection points in the three regions.

Farmers such as Daudi Yusuph have seen the benefits of selling through a market collection point. A member of the Mlamke Producer Business Group, Daudi was able to improve the quality of his tomatoes and expand production after receiving training from TechnoServe. And he earns a higher price by selling through the collection point.

As a result, Daudi, 32, was able to move his family of five into a brick house and send his children to school. Daudi has become a leader in his community and offers trainings to help other farmers solve production challenges.

“Everything has changed for my business and my family,” Daudi said. “I have the certainty of a ready market for my tomatoes, and good prices that enable me to realize a profit.”

The SHIFT program has a special emphasis on strengthening the role of women in the targeted industries and improving food security in individual households. TechnoServe has helped more than 1,100 women establish permaculture gardens, also known as kitchen gardens. These small plots of land give families an opportunity to grow vegetables near the house and eat a nutritious diet year-round.

Martha Mtenda is among the women who have built a permaculture garden, and she has seen the benefits of having a reliable source of wholesome food for her family. Martha is saving money through a newly established bank account, and she hopes to grow the size of her farm and increase her income further.

“For me, success means seeing results of the lessons I am learning continuously from TechnoServe,” Martha said. “I can now say that farming as a business pays.”