It’s Election Time!

Did you know that Tanzania is having elections at the end of October? I would assume that most people outside of the country do not. But inside this country of 45 million people, it is pretty much the only thing that anybody is talking about.

To understand this year’s elections, it is important to know a little about Tanzanian history post-independence. Tanzania won independence in 1961. Unlike many of their African neighbors, Tanzania became an independent state without any bloodshed. Documents were signed and power was handed over from the British to Julius Nyerere, who was president for 24 years until 1985.

Most rulers who hold power for that much time also tend to be brutal monarchs who are eventually forced out of power by revolutionary coups. Nyerere is controversial in this right, as he is widely considered as the archetype of a “benevolent dictator”—he loved his country and fought for its development, but did so on his own terms. Historians and progressive politicians today actively question Nyerere’s role in Tanzanian’s current economic stagnation, but the average Tanzanian worships the ground on which Nyerere walked.


Nyerere was the founder of the CCM party (Chama Cha Mapinduzi, or revolutionary party). And since he hand-picked his presidential successor in 1985, CCM has still been in power. That means that the same party has been in power for 54 years.

Tanzania is currently one of the most impoverished and aid-dependent countries in the world. And while many of their neighbors, such as Kenya and Rwanda, have made economic strides in the past 20 years, Tanzania has stagnated. And CCM, the party of Nyerere, has presided over this stagnation.

And now, in 2015, regardless of the special place that Nyerere holds in people’s hearts, many people are sick and tired of a party that has promised changes for half a century, and has failed to provide them. Several large corruption scandals in the past couple of years has just added fuel to this fire. The generally politically apathetic Tanzanian public is all of a sudden interested in politics.

The CCM primaries were contested by over 30 politicians. The eventual winner and CCM candidate is a man name John Magufuli, who is, compared to many of the other candidates, not a big name. His reputation, and his portrayal in campaign advertisements is a hard-working honest politician. Many politically-educated Tanzanians that I have spoken to have confirmed that Magufuli lives up to this billing.

CCM candidate, John Magufuli, demonstrates his physical fitness at a rally by doing several push-ups.

CCM candidate, John Magufuli, demonstrates his physical fitness at a rally by doing several push-ups.

The opposition in this year’s elections is Chadema, the largest of Tanzania’s opposition parties and the leader of a newly formed coalition called UKAWA, which is conglomeration of all the major anti-CCM political parties. UKAWA is an effort to build a voting bloc to take down the ruling party. The Chadema candidate is a man named Edward Lowassa, who was actually a CCM prime minister in 2005 to 2008 under the current president, and who ran in the CCM primaries this election cycle. When he did not win, he separated from the CCM establishment and became the face of the opposition. Lowassa’s reputation as a politician was tainted when he was forced to resign as prime minister due to his implication in a major corruption scandal.

So those are the facts, and here is the editorializing. Magufuli is a straight forward political candidate. He is honest and hard-working and has a track record of getting things done in his political career. And yet he is running on the ticket of the out-of-touch corrupt political machine that is CCM. Lowassa on the other hand, has a history of political corruption, but leads the opposition party seeking to take down the corrupt ruling party. So is it better to have a ruler with a history of corruption as head of a new (and so far untested party)? Or is it better to have an honest politician at the helm of the corrupt ruling party?

The word on the street of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s largest city, is change. People are tired of living in poverty while a relatively ineffective government continues to skim off the top of the national budget. And so they want CCM out. It is really all people are talking about here. Whenever the power goes out in Kariakoo Market, the darkness fills with screams of “people power!” and “change!” The stronghold of CCM is in the rural areas, but even places like the Tanga region where 2Seeds is located, which is traditionally the seat of CCM, hosted a massive Chadema rally several weeks ago.

Opposition party CHADEMA presidential candidate Edward Lowassa speaks at home village in Arusha region yesterday during the campaign rally held at police ground.  PHOTO|EDWIN MJWAHUZI

Opposition party CHADEMA presidential candidate Edward Lowassa speaks at home village in Arusha region yesterday during the campaign rally held at police ground. PHOTO|EDWIN MJWAHUZI

We are spoiled by election transparency in the United States (I say that even as a strong critic of transparency in the US). But here, there is no polling, no debates, and really no way to tell who is going to win. Are there enough people who are going to vote for Chadema? Are those votes even going to count? Most people are under the impression that CCM will not relinquish power, and will miscount votes and cheat in order to remain in government. Already they have cut 1.2 million people of voting rights due to “errors” in registering. This includes all 200,000 university students in the country, most of whom would have likely voted for Chadema.

With 10 days to go until the polls, there is really no telling who will win the public vote, and then the larger question, what will happen afterward if neither party is willing to back down peacefully? Watch this space.

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How Cell Phones are Reducing Poverty in sub-Saharan Africa

In July of this year, when I canvassed my relative and friends in the United States to raise money for the Masoko Project, I of course had a pitch. My pitch was that “at the Masoko Project our primary goal is to distribute crop price information collected at Kariakoo Market to rural farmers throughout Tanzania. And through the distribution of this information, farmers will have more agency to negotiate with buyers and middlemen, as well as to plan their crop schedules to maximize profit.”

It was effective. I raised enough money and people are excited about this work. But what I have learned over the past several months is that price information, let alone from one market, is a small step in a much larger context—cellular innovation that has the potential to drastically change the lives of smallholder farmers across Africa.

At this point in time, if you live in the United States or Europe, and you don’t own a smartphone, you are either over the age of 70, or have deliberately rebelled against the technology. Africa, despite its lack of connection to international markets and notoriously slow-growing economies, is actually also in the middle of a technological revolution (albeit a decade or so behind). According to a report by Swedish tech company, Ericsson, use of mobile data (3G and 4G technologies) is expected to grow by 20 times between 2013 and 2019. In 2014, the number of mobile subscriptions in the region was 635 million. And by 2019, it is expected to be 930 million. That is a 30% increase in only 5 years. Anecdotally, I have met very few Tanzanians, even in the most rural areas, who do not have phones.

This tall cell phone tower is being built by a Vietnamese company in rural Tanga, Tanzania.

This tall cell phone tower is being built by a Vietnamese company in rural Tanga, Tanzania.

In many ways, Africa is a perfect climate for mobile innovation. First, countries can learn from and take technologies from the western world. Rural Africa more or less skipped land lines, going directly from simple communication forms to cell phones. And they can do the same with smart phones and internet. Second, Africa lacks basic infrastructure, for example banks. This leaves an opportunity for African countries to develop infrastructure in new ways, like cell phones. Mobile banking is huge in sub-Saharan Africa. TED speaker Toby Shapshak explains, “Africa is a mobile-only continent. There never was a landline infrastructure to begin with, apart from urban areas. Mobile has allowed anyone to have a phone in places that were previously impassable and uncontactable … It really is that technology leapfrog the industry likes to talk about.”

The prevalence of cell phones in sub-Saharan Africa opens up tremendous market opportunities in a number of different sectors. Most relevant to our work is the possibility of using cell phones to provide valuable information to rural smallholder farmers. For decades, while the rest of the world grew closer together, rural farmers in sub-Saharan Africa have struggled in part due to an information and resource imbalance with the rest of the world. So while farmers in the developed world predict weather and plant accordingly, use state of the art technologies, connect directly with buyers, and have close access to the latest agricultural innovations, African farmers have more or less planted and harvested as their parents and grandparents had. In effect, they have continued to stagnate and remain in poverty, while the rest of the world has shot forward.

The Esoko CEO explaining their technology to a crowd of potential partners in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

The Esoko CEO explaining their technology to a crowd of potential partners in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Mobile infrastructure has tremendous potential to push agricultural innovation for the most impoverished and isolated of African farmers. And this is not a secret. In the past several months I have come into contact with multiple companies and organizations that see this potential. Vodafone, for example, is developing a product in Tanzania that provides all sorts of valuable information to farmers via their cell phones. In Ghana, they have already developed one, where farmers have access to weather, agricultural tips, market prices, and can even buy and sell crops online. Esoko, a Ghanaian company, is specializing in developing technology platforms that companies and organizations can use to connect with farmers. In some countries, these technologies are already being used, and in others they are just in the idea stage. Each of these services can allow farmers to produce more, connect better with markets, and be strategic in their planting and selling. The broader impact: a massive increase in food and income security for some of the world’s poorest.

At the Masoko Project, we sit in our hot little office in Kariakoo and contemplate the best ways to collect crop prices in this one market. This is very important work, and in many ways we are setting the standard of how to collect accurate price information in major African markets. But we are one piece of an emerging puzzle. Ten years from now, farmers will be able to open up their smartphones, check the weather for tomorrow, get an update about the latest irrigation training in the nearby city, call a buyer to negotiate prices, buy seeds remotely, and likely do more than I can even imagine at the moment. There is no silver bullet to improving agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa, but the cellular revolution is certainly one part of the solution.

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Trust and its Implications for Development

I have wonderful parents. They’ve sent me about a dozen care packages since I arrived in Tanzania a little over a year ago, filled with things from home that are difficult to find here. Thus, going to the post office here isn’t exactly new to me. I feel like I have a general idea of the procedure. You can imagine my surprise, then, when the customs officer asked me to a pay a $60 “import tax” to receive a package this weekend – a tax that I have never once been asked to pay before. I fought him on it and was eventually “let off the hook, just this once”. One has to assume that if his actions were backed by the law, I wouldn’t have been able to talk my way out of it.

I’m not writing to complain about an unpleasant encounter, though. Someone tried to take advantage of me, I stood my ground and walked away none the lesser. No biggie. However, this moment got me thinking about trust. Particularly, trust in institutions – social, economic and political – and the impact that trust, or lack there-of, has on civil society.

The above anecdote was ultimately a harmless breach of trust in and of itself. However, it was a small manifestation of a larger issue that exists in this country: there is a distinct lack of trust between people and institutions, and not without reason. Many academics have examined the negative effect that distrust in government and institutions has on civil society, from macro-level changes in economic behavior, all the way down to the harmful psychological impact on the individual. I want to briefly examine a few of the ways in which we’ve encountered this theme in our work at the Masoko Project.

But first, I should clarify what I mean when I use the word “trust”. Trust can be a lot of different things depending on your context. Most commonly, we talk about trust in an emotional setting – “I trust that ‘x’ person has my best interests at heart and their behavior will reflect that”. In the context of political and social science, however, trust has a slightly different, perhaps more cynical meaning. A definition from the OECD () breaks trust into three components: “an expectation, a willingness to be vulnerable and a risk-taking act”. The expectation is that “members of the community will behave in a cooperative and honest way”. The willingness to be vulnerable is predicated on a confidence that the other party will be “benevolent, reliable, competent, honest and open”. And of course, a risk-taking act is any act which exposes you to potential loss, be it economic, opportunistic, etc. I say it is somewhat cynical because trust in this definition is not founded in emotion or expected altruism of those around us, but in an assurance that those we interact with will behave in a predictable way based on legal and societal expectations.

This definition is useful to us in our work here because we can easily see, on a daily basis, the ways in which the absence of the first two components of the definition—an expectation and a willingness to be vulnerable—lead to avoidance of the third—economic risks—and thus inhibit progress and growth.

Virtually anyone you talk to in Tanzania can tell you a story of a time when they’ve been taken advantage of by someone higher up the proverbial food chain. Some of the stories are pretty inconsequential, such as mine, though others are heartbreaking and life-changing for those affected. The biggest cause of this predatory environment is the incredible imbalance of information and access to information that exists between those who find themselves in positions of power (i.e. government employees, police officers, and people with financial means among others) and those who are disenfranchised. Please never take for granted, those of you reading this in the United States, the power that your access to information has in holding people accountable. Yes, there are ways in which we (citizens of the Western world) are taken advantage of by those with more power and influence than us. However, the opportunity to know one’s rights and the laws that protect them, as well as the ability to take steps to see these laws enforced, allows a person to trust these systems, because there are mechanisms of accountability. Trust, then, leads to the willingness to take risks, and in turn encourages innovation and creates opportunities for upward mobility*.

Do Tanzanians trust the government to carry out fair elections in October? Should they?

Do Tanzanians trust the government to carry out fair elections in October? Should they?

This is not to say that Tanzania is a lawless country with no protection for the average citizen. That is far from the truth. However, the lack of information flow to the lowest levels of the socio-economic ladder creates an environment in which people are more exposed to stories of dishonesty and abuse of power than they are to information about their rights and how to maintain these rights. The fact that this flow of information stops short of empowering people to make well-informed decisions.

The result is economic stagnation. People know that upward economic mobility requires interaction with people and institutions higher up the economic ladder than they are. They also know that these parties have access to better information, which means that they can be taken advantage of. Finally, with no faith in the protection of their government and no way to hold the second party accountable to the rules, the assumption is that an abuse will occur. People then avoid taking risks, and the status quo, tragically, is preserved.

Now, tying this back to our work. As we’ve mentioned in previous posts, the broad objective of the Masoko Project is to correct a major flaw in the agricultural value chain. That flaw is precisely the information imbalance that I’m referring to. If you follow this value chain all the way back to its origin, the farms, you’ll find that almost no information about what’s happening on the other end (the markets) has made it there. The farmers are not empowered to make informed decisions that are in their own best interest, nor are they able to hold the parties they do business with accountable with accurate information regarding market behavior. The result, again, is people being taken advantage of, or more frequently, avoiding risky behavior that yes, could hurt them financially, but is ultimately necessary to escape the cycle of poverty that too many Tanzanians are trapped in.

Our system of making accurate crop prices available to all parties along the value chain creates a flow of information that creates a more trusting environment and facilitates economic growth.

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“None of your business!”: Reluctant Sellers and Accurate Information

The primary goal of the Masoko Project is to develop a price information system that gathers data from urban markets, and makes it available to rural consumers. From an outsider’s view, developing a price collection system in a produce market seems like a relatively straightforward task. Step 1: gather the information. Step 2: Record the information. Step 3: Provide the information to the people who need it. Yet as most people who study or work in development probably know, what often seems straightforward in this field, is actually coated with layers and layers of complexity that stunt forward progress.

Hurdles abound within each of these three steps, but this post will be focusing on one particular challenge at the very base of this chain: collecting reliable information. So first, how does one actually collect price information? The answer is relatively simple: you ask.

Beginning in 2013, the Kariakoo Market Corporation has tasked a paid employee, Mama Lukanga, with walking around the market every day and asking sellers (who rent space in the market) for the price of crops, both wholesale and retail. More than anyone else, these sellers have a direct pulse on the fluctuations of market prices. After all, they are the people who buy the shipments of bananas, cucumbers and tomatoes from farmers or middlemen for wholesale prices, and then sell to urban consumers for retail prices. It is their job to know these prices.

So every day, Mama Lukanga walks around the market and asks these prices. The challenge lies in the fact that the community of sellers in the market does not often want to give any or accurate information. I have spent the past two weeks walking around with Mama Lukanga each day, observing as she does her job. It has been a lesson in how difficult her job can actually be. When approaching banana sellers the wholesale price of bananas, she has become hardened to people pretending to talk on their cell phones, yelling at her for being invasive and annoying, or even just running away. “It’s the same damn price as yesterday and the day before, woman!” “Your job is just to walk around with a clipboard, you don’t know what real work is like!” “Why do you want to know?” My favorite response so far came from a pineapple seller who simply looked at her when she asked the price he bought his pineapples for, and said sarcastically “they were free.”

Mama Lukanga teaching project coordinator, Jeremy, how to collect price information.

Mama Lukanga teaching project coordinator, Jeremy, how to collect price information.

So why is it so difficult to drag prices out of people? There are many reasons. The first is that sellers see it as being bad for business. If farmers or customers know the accurate price of any given crop on any given day, then the seller loses an opportunity to jack up the price for unsuspecting or naïve farmers and customers. In the short term, the seller sees freedom of information as a loss of leverage.

The second has to do with trust. The relationship between the market corporation and the sellers who rent space in the market is tense, at best. Sellers are charged fees for their space, which they are reluctant to pay because they suspect the market corporation is skimming off the top. This is a challenge in Tanzania. Because of rampant corruption, there is a marked lack of trust. As a government-run organization, the Kariakoo Market Corporation deals with the pervasive expectation from sellers that the money the market makes is not being put to good use. The fact that the fees pay all market costs like electricity, janitorial services, and salaries, is not understood among sellers. So when a well-dressed salaried employee of the market walks around with a clipboard asking for information, a seller does not see why he should trust her.

A third seems to be just sheer annoyance. From the perspective of a seller, the price of any given crop may be the same for two straight weeks, so there is little rationality in asking the price each day. It is just a waste of time.

The combined impact of these three reasons leads to a population of sellers in which many are reluctant to disclose information, and constantly give Mama Lukanga a hard time. When the goal of the project is to provide access to accurate information, this poses quite an challenge.

The back of the Kariakoo basement where large trucks coming from all over the country drop off shipments of produce.

The back of the Kariakoo basement where large trucks coming from all over the country drop off shipments of produce.

Mama Lukanga, to her credit, is a wizard at her work. She is friendly but takes no BS, and is utterly persistent and strategic in her pursuit of information. If the pineapple guy says he got them for free, she will find the next person who will give her the price that day. Her experience looking for price information and her people skills also results in an uncanny understanding of when she is being lied to. Over the past several weeks I have watched her walk away from a conversation with a certain price, but know instinctively that this is wrong, and find other people to seek information.

Yet the challenge of collecting accurate information can’t be solved by one talented woman alone. It is engrained in the economy and the culture, and as such is no easy fix. It requires targeted relationship-building with and education for the people on whom the entire platform relies.

One of our goals this year is to develop seminars for sellers that explain the project and its overall goals. Most importantly, this means highlighting the benefits of transparency for sellers themselves. While they may miss a chance to rip someone off, there is great benefit in the long run to developing a reputation as a trustworthy business person. This can solidify business partnerships with both farmers and consumers. In addition, with access to information, customers will be able to scope out prices first online, and then come to the market with their whole shopping list, rather than travel to different markets in the city to compare prices. In the long run, customer bases increase. On top of this, building relationships with sellers can only increase trust and lead to more accurate information.

In a climate where a lack of transparency and trust is rife, we are building a system that seeks to increase transparency and trust. The catch 22 is that transparency and trust are required to build this system.

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Welcome to the Masoko Project, 2015-2016!

To new followers and old – welcome to a new year of the Masoko Project here in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania! For our first blog of the project year, we wanted to offer a brief introduction to ourselves, the project and some of the things we’ll be working on in the coming months.

The 2015-2016 Project Coordinators are David Robinson and Jeremy Harding. Both David and Jeremy were Project Coordinators with village-based projects within the 2Seeds Network this past year. David lived and worked in Magoma-Kwata, where he and his partners built an integrated system using goats, chickens, fish and a vegetable garden to generate income that will ultimately fund a school meals program. This project is driven by teams of students and parents – all on a volunteer basis – whose collaboration and mutual respect is incredibly inspiring and absolutely crucial to the business’s long-term success.

Jeremy was a Project Coordinator with the Kwakiliga Project for the 2014-2015 project year. The Kwakiliga Project is centered on an integrated system of egg-production and vegetable gardening, designed to build food and income security for our partners there. The business has come an incredibly long way over the last three years, and is now entering its final steps towards self-sustainability!

We are both extremely excited to bring the experience we gained over this past year to our work here with the Masoko Project. We’ve been here for about a week now, and have really been able to dive head-first into the work, thanks in large part to our Swahili ability and the pre-existing relationships we have with the Masoko Project Partners. The amount of work and moving pieces in this project is staggering, so hitting the ground running has been extremely important for us.

The Masoko Project, for those who don’t know, is 2Seeds’ “Specialized Project Site”, meaning that it is not village-based, and the nature of the work – along with the project’s objectives – is quite different than that of our other projects. Broadly, however, the ultimate mission of the Masoko Project is the same as all of the other projects in the Network: to build the human capital of our partners in an effort to reduce extreme poverty in rural Tanzania.

Whereas the village-based sites work to achieve this goal by empowering Project Partners to overcome the barriers that exist between them and food and income security, the Masoko Project takes a more macro-level approach. This primarily involves improving the agricultural value chain in Tanzania by creating transparency and access to information throughout this value chain, right down to the smallest producer. To achieve this goal, the project is developing a system of price collection of crops sold at Kariakoo Market, the largest agricultural market in Tanzania and the heart and soul of its agricultural economy. This information is then distributed to farmers all over the country via partnerships with leading cellular carriers. The virtual ubiquity of cell phones here, though recent, means that people in even the most remote regions of the country can access accurate information that will give them greater agency and decision-making power in selling their crops.

Over the last five years, the project has grown tremendously. Beginning with just a seed of an idea, it has expanded to a functioning price collection system, operated through collaboration between Kariakoo Market employees, and a local tech start, Habari Mazao, which has developed the technology platform for the project. The data is currently being disseminated to hundreds of thousands of farmers through partnership with cellular carriers.

This is not to say our work is over. While we want to see continued growth in the number of people using the service, we will also seek to improve the frequency and accuracy of data collection systems, expand collection to staple crops sold in other markets in Dar es Salaam, and transition the project to financial self-sustainability (i.e. have distributors pay for our data collection services). This final piece is crucial because it opens the possibility for the project to grow and innovate without external support.

On top of our Kariakoo Market-side of the project, our role within the 2Seeds Network is crucial, because we can open market opportunities for our village-based projects. We will be working this year on building more connections between these 2Seeds producers and consumers in Dar es Salaam.

It has been an exciting first week, and here are some photos from week one, and we hope you will stay tuned to the blog for progress updates and stories throughout the year!

Jeremy collecting price information of "dagaa"--small dried fish best eaten with ugali--with Mama Lukanga, the Kariakoo employee in charge of collecting prices daily.

Jeremy collecting price information of “dagaa”–small dried fish best eaten with ugali–with Mama Lukanga, the Kariakoo employee in charge of collecting prices daily.

Our network sales team, Husein and Jen, flash some cash from a big sale in Dar.

Our network sales team, Husein and Jen, flash some cash from a big sale in Dar.

Banzi, one of the over 350 produce sellers in the basement of the Kariakoo market.

Banzi, one of the over 350 produce sellers in the basement of the Kariakoo market.

The team cooling off with some coffee after our first team meeting. From left to right (not including the first guy on the left), Henry (assistant in price collection), Omari (web developer at Kariakoo), David and Jeremy (project coordinators), and Bariki (software developer at Habari Mazao).

The team cooling off with some coffee after our first team meeting. From left to right (not including the first guy on the left), Henry (assistant in price collection), Omari (web developer at Kariakoo), David and Jeremy (project coordinators), and Bariki (software developer at Habari Mazao).

David with banana sellers in the Kariakoo basement.

David with banana sellers in the Kariakoo basement.

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2014 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,400 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 23 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Year-End Investor Report

To investors and stakeholders in the Masoko Project,

As their term drew to a close in late June and early July, Monique and Sophie put their heads together and prepared a year-end investor report.

Masoko Project Year-End Investor Report, July 2014

Accountability and transparency are priorities for Project Coordinators and for 2Seeds Network as an organization, as is showcasing success. Take a good look at this document because it’s full of great info and insight.

Please do not hesitate to reach out to Monique and Sophie, or us, with any questions thoughts.

From the 2Seeds Ground Team

Ana, Colleen, & Marc

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