Embracing the aches and pains: recruiting cassava seed entrepreneurs in Tanzania

Meeting with prospective CSEs at the local government offices in Kisasa ward.

I’m now just over halfway through my internship na kazi imenimeza kabisa – and I’ve been completely engulfed by work – but trust me, I love it! No coffee runs for me!

In my internship, I have the privilege to witness how MEDA’s BEST Cassava project is changing lives for the better.

One exciting feature of my role is that it requires extensive travel to successfully execute my responsibilities. In order to understand how cassava seed entrepreneurs (CSEs) and project clients are being impacted, I need to get out into the field and talk to them firsthand. I enjoy travelling around the country because I spend less time in the office and I get the added benefit of site-seeing.

Ruins of a Catholic Church in Kyaka, Miseni. It was bombed by the Ugandan Military in 1978.

Each field trip has its own objective which, for the most part, is based on the farming season. Given that the planting season is approaching, recent field trips have been geared towards CSE recruitment. Currently, there are 280 CSEs in the program and the target is to have an estimated 450 CSEs by the end of the project in December 2021. Attaining this target would ensure the consistent availability and accessibility of the superior cassava varieties for farmers across Tanzania. The importance of recruitment is reflected on the amount of time and effort spent on the process.

Effective recruitment involves intense collaboration with local governments specifically the local agricultural officers. Before we undertake CSE recruitment in uncharted territory, we first have to notify the local government of our presence as we may need to be accompanied by an agricultural officer who is familiar with the area and the prospective CSEs. The team prefers notifying officials by visiting them at their local offices as this tends to forge stronger partnerships. Through these meetings, we can further elaborate the project’s details.

Using this information, the agricultural officers can filter for prospective CSEs with the capability of meeting the program’s qualifications thereby hastening the recruitment process. Coordination with local governments is also vital since the local agricultural officers must attend a training session to provide them with the skills that enable them to act as a point of reference for CSEs in their wards. As a result, collaboration with local governments is compulsory for MEDA.

Generally, the duration of a field trip depends on the destination’s distance as well as the number of activities to be conducted. Sometimes, the schedule may compel us to depart the day before or in the wee hours of the morning. The drivers account for additional time in the schedule because there may be unforeseen events during the journey such as tire punctures or at times, we may need to board a ferry to access the destination. Yes! I have experienced both situations. The ferries are painfully slow and can be quite frightening if the lake’s currents are strong. (Unfortunately, one ferry capsized last month and about 200 lives were lost.)

Moreover, the poor conditions of some roads cause delays which make the trip long and exhausting. With bumpy roads, the window for napping is often shut. Any chance we get to step out of the car and stretch is greatly appreciated- the sound of cracking joints followed by exaggerated yawns can attest to the value of this opportunity. By the time we get to the destination, our energy levels are usually below the threshold necessary to conduct field activities so upon arrival, we may have a meal to restore our energy or call it a day in situations where we arrive after the local government offices are closed.

 Sharing a meal of Ugali
Enjoying a meal of Ugali (made from a blend of sorghum and cassava flour) and fish prepared by a CSE.

CSE recruitment can be quite taxing and it normally bears mixed results. Every prospective CSE must have their field inspected to verify that it meets all the prescribed specifications. In situations where inspections are done in sunny and hot conditions, this process can be strenuous. If a prospective CSE succeeds the inspection, then the next step is to confirm that they will be able to fully support themselves and their businesses because there is no cost-sharing arrangement in the BEST Cassava project. From our experience, many prospective CSEs are unable to join the project if they are forced to absorb all the costs because their resources are already committed to more important activities like school fees payments hence limiting their capability to take on other ventures.

There are instances where we may be accompanied by current CSEs whilst recruiting particularly when the prospective CSEs are the friends or relatives of current CSEs. The current CSEs are always happy to have us and occasionally, they prepare a meal for us before we depart. When we involve current CSEs in recruitment, monitoring and evaluation of their cassava fields may be incorporated as an activity during the trip before returning home.

This is a snippet of a task that must be done in order for the BEST Cassava project to succeed. As you can see, collaborating with local governments as well as current CSEs makes this assignment a lot easier for the team so it is important for us to maintain healthy relationships with our partners throughout the duration of the project.

4 months down, 2 more to go!

Time, can you please slow down?

Support an entrepreneur in Tanzania by donating to our BEST Cassava project!

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  • MEDA is an international economic development organization that creates business solutions to poverty. We work in agri-food market systems, focusing primarily on women and youth in rural communities in the Global South. Our success is measured by income, improved processes, increased knowledge, and the creation of decent work.

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