In the shadow of Mount Meru in north-western Tanzania lies Patanumbe, a small village where water is scarce and farmers' livelihoods are dependent on irregular rainfall. In recent times, villagers have borne the brunt of changing weather patterns and prolonged droughts. Families struggle to put food on the table, sometimes resorting to the sale of livestock to get by.
In September 2011, through WFP’s Food-for-Assets programme, 500 farmers from Patanumbe and the surrounding region spent three days a week over a period of six months working on the construction of five charco dams – small earth dams built on flat land that collect and store surface water. In return for their work, the farmers received a family ration of maize, beans, and oil.
The charco dams provide villagers with easier, year-round access to water for cooking, cleaning and, of course, harvesting their crops. Now, families can bring their livestock to one dam for watering, and use another for collecting and storing water for their homes.
Prices are high
“The food from WFP helped me feed my family for four months and meant I did not have to purchase anything from the local market where prices are very high,” says father of four, Eliakimu Sumaiyani. “Now, I collect water from the dam and use it to harvest carrots, pumpkins, spinach and tomatoes. We cook the vegetables at home and also sell them to our neighbours.”
Eliakimu earns about USD50 each month from selling vegetables, which has had a dramatic effect on the lives of him and his family.
“I can now send my children to school and buy basic goods and medication,” he says. “I have also bought a cow and am selling the milk.”
The dams are also helping community members aggregate their food to do business. With access to water, a group of 27 women have started growing bananas on their previously degraded land which they are selling in the local market. This brings them approximately USD40-60 each month.
“With this new income I hope to open a shop,” says Neema, a mother of five. “This will make it easier to support my family. Now we can start looking ahead. Feeding ourselves is no longer a daily struggle.”
Not only are the dams addressing people’s immediate food needs – they are also helping them plan for a more sustainable future.