WFP and Belgium connect Tanzanian farmers to refugee food market

With support from Enabel — the Belgian Development Agency — smallholders are now selling to the World Food Programme

Max Wohlgemuth
Jun 5, 2020 · 6 min read
Mtendeli Refugee Camp in Kakonko District, Kigoma Region, Tanzania. Photo: WFP/Max Wohlgemuth

Kakonko, like neighbouring districts, has red soil that turns into heavy dust during the dry season. When it rains, most residents are busy planting maize, cassava, beans and bananas, as well as other staple crops. Many of these farmers depend on the yearly harvest for the bulk of their income.

“Every year we are in the fields working, but the lingering question always is, ‘Are we going to be able to find a buyer?’ and ‘How much will we eat?’,” says Jackson Christopher, a 40-year-old farmer, born and raised in Kakonko.

Kakonko is in the Kigoma region, bordering Burundi in the northwest of Tanzania. Over 90,000 metric tons of beans — enough to fill 3,000 trucks — are produced in Kigoma each year. Of this, 24,000 metric tons are “surplus” and traded within Tanzania, supplying markets such as the city of Dar es Salaam and other regions.

Clockwise in bowl: Rose coco beans, red kidney beans and yellow beans — WFP buys the first two varieties which are cultivated commercially as part of the Enabel project. Photo: Max Wohlgemuth

For smallholder farmers like Christopher, accessing these markets can be a daunting challenge. Typically, farmers market their produce locally within the village or ward. A buyer might come and purchase the product, but the prices can be unfavourable for the farmer who is left with little to no other option.

For the buyer, receiving consistent quality can be a challenge and transporting the produce up the supply chain can be expensive.

“That is why we use a value-chain approach to organize smallholder farmers to produce high-quality produce and bring it to market,” said Earnest Musinamwana, Agricultural Marketing Adviser for Enabel — the Belgian Development Agency.

Enabel, the Belgian government’s development agency, works with 15,000 farmers throughout Kigoma region under the Sustainable Agriculture Kigoma Regional Project. Using a ‘pro-poor’ value chain development approach, farmers are systematically supported from production all the way through to storage and marketing. Access to finance helps farmers purchase things such as improved and marketable seed varieties, pesticides and fertilizer while coaching on good agricultural practices helps maximize the quantity and quality of their harvests.

“Our ultimate objective is to increase the income of smallholder farmers in Kigoma region,” says Earnest Musinamwana. “While we work to boost smallholder farmer productivity and reduce their post-harvest losses, the last piece is finding a reliable market for the produce.”

Neighbouring countries

About 15 kilometres from Christopher’s farm, lies a unique community. Mtendeli Refugee Camp is a historic refuge for asylum seekers from neighbouring countries. The camp reopened in January 2016, following an influx of refugees from Burundi and currently hosts more than 30,000 refugees. Refugees in Tanzania are restricted by a strict encampment policy with limited resilience and livelihood opportunities. They are dependent on the humanitarian community to provide for basic needs such as food.

The World Food Programme (WFP) provides refugees with rations of cereals, pulses (including beans), vegetable oil, specialized nutritious food and salt to meet their daily minimum food requirements. In total, WFP provides food assistance to 230,000 refugees in Tanzania and over a million vulnerable people in neighbouring countries including Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan Burundi and Rwanda.

Beans aggregated by Muungano ‘Amcos’ are shipped to Mtendeli Refugee Camp. Photo: Courtesy of Enabel

Last year, WFP purchased 20,000 metric tons of food in Tanzania at a cost of nearlt US$9 million. The food was then distributed in Tanzania and in neighbouring countries.

“WFP is a big buyer of food commodities produced locally in Tanzania,” says Michael Dunford, WFP Representative in Tanzania. “In collaboration with Enabel, WFP is now able to help unlock a new market for smallholder farmers in the host community that can benefit from WFP’s support to refugees. With the success of this procurement, WFP will continue to expand support through more purchases directly from the local community.”

Reliable markets

With the assurance that WFP would buy their beans, farmers supported by Enabel mobilised to produce beans of sufficient quantity and quality. Christopher harvested 18 bags, or about 1.3 metric tons of market-grade beans.

However, a truck can carry up to 30 metric tons and WFP Tanzania distributes hundreds of metric tons a month — this makes having contracts with smaller farmers impossible because it would entail hundreds, if not thousands, of monthly contracts.

“To bridge this gap, Agricultural Marketing Co-operatives or ‘Amcos’ were identified as an institutional solution,” says Musinamwana. “Building on the foundation of multiple individual producer groups, each Amco is able to aggregate the produce from hundreds of farmers to meet WFP’s quantity and quality requirements.”

This year, WFP, under the coordination from Enabel, purchased almost 400 metric tons of beans from Nyakitonto and Muugano Kiziguzigu Amcos. These Amcos’ bean aggregation efforts straddled the four districts of Kakonko, Kibondo, Kasulu and Uvinza, all in Kigoma region. Christopher serves as the chairperson of Muungano AMCOS which is located in Kiziguzigu ward of Kakonko district.

“Having lived with refugees as neighbours for most of my life, it is encouraging that WFP has given the opportunity to support them through food supply opportunities,” says Christopher. “In the past, our market interactions with refugees has been limited, but the collaboration with WFP has put us on a different level.”

Red kidney beans cooking over a fire in Mtendeli Refugee Camp. Photo: WFP/Max Wohlgemuth

The beans, purchased for more than US$300,000, will be distributed in the coming months to the 230,000 refugees hosted in Kigoma.

“WFP and Enabel are key partners in this project, providing a catalyst for transforming smallholder farming from a largely subsistence operation into a commercial one,” says Peter Van Acker, Ambassador of Belgium to Tanzania. “Purchasing food directly from smallholder farmers in Kigoma is a great opportunity to support the refugee-hosting communities. In my previous capacity as Director of Humanitarian Affairs at the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Development Cooperation, I had been struggling with the concept of the nexus between humanitarian and development aid. To see this happening now in Tanzania makes me extremely proud.”

“For too long, humanitarian and development actors have been working independently from one another,” says Patrick Gaudissart, Resident Representative of Enabel in Tanzania.

“Enabel believes that strengthening the coherence and coordination between humanitarian and development efforts and building on their respective comparative advantages strongly contributes to reduce needs, risks and vulnerability of populations.

“Supporting the humanitarian-development architecture through local development actions reduces the vulnerability of displaced women and men while it enhances the resilience of communities and systems in hosting countries”.

A family has lunch in Mtendeli Refugee Camp. Photo: WFP/Max Wohlgemuth

The other side of the plate

About 150 kilometres to the southwest of Kakonko is Tanzania’s largest refugee camp, Nyarugusu. The camp is home to 136,000 refugees, of which 76,000 are from Democratic Republic of Congo and the remaining are primarily from Burundi.

Abilola Tabu Angelique, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo serves as the President for refugees in Nyarugusu Camp. She has been in Tanzania for 22 years, first at Lugufu refugee camp before moving to Nyarugusu ten years ago.

“We are continually grateful to the Government of Tanzania and to our neighbouring residents for being generous hosts,” says Abilola. “It makes us happy to know that our closest hosts are doing well and able to access the WFP market.

A version of this article was first published in the Tanzania Guardian. Donors to WFP Tanzania’s refugee operation include the USA, United Kingdom, European Union, Ireland, Canada and Germany. Enabel manages about 150 projects, mostly in fragile states in Africa.

Learn more about WFP’s work in Tanzania

World Food Programme Insight

Insight by The World Food Programme

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