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30 years in Tanzania

Concern recently marked its 30th anniversary in Tanzania. I’ve just spent a week in Iringa, the first area Concern worked in the country, to see how things have changed in this time.

I ask villagers in Iringa what was the major change Concern made? They tell me: “the trees.”

Before Concern arrived, some parts of Iringa had no trees at all. They were cut down to make room for collective farms in the 70s during the socialist era. People didn’t know they should also plant trees. By the early 80s, entire areas were deforested. Repeatedly, I hear the phrase “it was like a desert.”

No trees, no rain, no food

Without trees there was no rain. Without rain, crops wouldn’t grow. With the entire rural population dependent on farming, this led to extreme poverty. Children were visibly malnourished and unable to attend school. As Concern staff witnessed, it was a desperate situation.

Fruits and vegetables

Thanks to Concern, villagers received seedlings to plant, and gradually the land began to sprout back the forests. Concern encouraged people to plant fruit trees and establish a small vegetable garden next to each house. The result was a valuable and reliable source of healthy food which reduced labour for women.

Thirty years on

It’s raining and I run into a market. The stalls are piled high with colourful fruits and vegetables. It’s the start of the rainy season, yet I can find everything I want – papayas, pineapples, avocados, tomatoes, and mangos. I can’t imagine a time when these markets were barren besides bags of maize and cowpeas.

In the villages, I see children with healthy faces and school uniforms with few rips and tears. I see farms ploughed in neat rows with plants sprouting above the moist soil. Green vegetable gardens and a fruit tree grow next to every house. The rain is still unpredictable, but it comes more than before. “Some people struggle still, but we no longer talk about poverty in this village,” one local Catholic sister told me.

Concern is one of few NGOs that can honestly say it works with the very poorest people. In Tanzania we have learnt a lot about development since the old days, but it’s still easy to see the benefit of the first projects. They paved the way for future work, work which I’m proud to be a part of.