article by Esther EB Muhagachi, Program Director at Grace and Healing Ministry (GHMD) in Dodoma, Tanzania
The times for hunger in Tanzania differ from region to region. In the region of Dodoma, we have a rainy season only once a year, beginning in late November. This is the time that people prepare to plant their food crops. The peak rainfall is in December and January. In February and March, we often experience a long drought during the growing season. Even without a drought, the rainfall usually ends completely in April. The dry season in our region is typically six months, starting in May and ending in early November.
The period of acute food scarcity, known as “Hunger Season,” is from November to February. The previous harvest has been consumed, and the new crop is growing but not yet ready for harvest.
The region of Dodoma depends on rain-fed agriculture. Agriculture and livestock are the main livelihood activities, which heavily depend on natural rains to enable crops and pastures to grow in order to produce food for people as well as livestock. Failure of rainfall results in low crop productivity or total crop failure, significantly reducing food production.
Most people farm at a subsistence level. They do not have the resources or knowledge to get ahead. If families cannot raise enough food or livestock to sustain them through Hunger Season, they suffer until they can begin again with the next rains. During Hunger Season, many male heads of household migrate to urban centers to seek work as casual laborers.
GHMD supports the most vulnerable families in the community of Dodoma. These are families led by a grandmother, by a widow or widower who is HIV-positive, and some are even child-headed homes. We can see during our home visiting that these families are hard hit by hunger. Most of these families can’t afford to dig and harvest enough food crops for the whole year. It is very sad that most of these vulnerable families survive by begging and by picking through the dustbins and garbage dumping places.
Our main concern for the children and families of GHMD is to make sure that they change their focus from begging to sustainability. We are educating the children; we hope this will change their future. We don’t want to see them begging as their caregivers are forced to do now. We are very serious about this, and we have seen success. Some of our kids used to accompany their caregivers to the sites where they go for picking, but with our support, they have stopped and are able to put their energy toward other pursuits.
As we are giving families food assistance, we also teach them how to work and earn some money to buy their own food. We have a woman who used to pick food from garbage dumps, but now she is doing work like washing clothes and cleaning for people, and is able to buy food.
Given the fact that the majority of the people in Dodoma depend on agriculture as their main source of livelihood and income, much more innovation is needed to empower the community. We must adapt to the impacts of climate changes and unpredictable rains in order to reduce the impact of hunger in so many families. We have seen that the most important thing is changing attitudes through education. GHMD will continue to emphasize educating the community about food security and the importance of working hard. I believe we cannot change the past, but we have a chance to change our destination.
Thank you to all of you who are changing your diets in order to share your savings with the families supported by GHMD and other Lahash partners. The funds donated through Rice & Beans Month will be divided between supplemental nutrition programs, sustainable food production programs, and emergency food assistance. As you can see from Esther’s words, all three of these areas are necessary in the process of increasing food security for vulnerable families. Together, we are making a big difference.