Small can be big

Yesterday morning my alarm clock went off at 6.30 am, yes working days start early in Tanzania. After having a quick breakfast of bananas, toast and tea, I get down to the lobby to wait for my appointment for today.  Jan, a friendly Belgian from Gent, greets me and together we get in his 4x4. Jan is the director of the Tanzanian branch of the Dutch company Diligent Energy Systems. He has been living in Arusha for the last six years. It has made him fluent in both Kiswahili and the Tanzanian pace of life, which is hectic and relaxed at the same time.


Jan is taking me to see the Diligent jatropha plant on the outskirts of Arusha. After driving up a very bumpy dirt road he honks the horn and a big iron gate swings open. When I step out of the car a friendly dog comes out to meet me, Jan tells me that after two years they have almost become friends. I look around and the first thing I notice are warehouses and containers in which big bags filled with jatropha seeds are stacked up till the roof.  Jan tells me that the production of jatropha seeds by small scale famers has increased tremendously this year and that because of the daily power cuts his presses can not run on full capacity.

In different parts of the factory he shows me the production processes of pressing and filtering the oil. With the waste product of the seeds his Tanzanian workers produce pallets that can be used in cooking stoves and long bricks that can replace charcoal in firing up big ovens. The jatropha oil is sold to a Dutch company which makes jet (bio)fuel and the bricks Diligent sells to a local orphanage and to restaurants and hotels in the city. Jan tells me that Diligent sells everything they produce within the month, that is why he wants to increase the production and processing for next year.

When we get to his office Jan explains how Diligent only buys jatropha seeds from small scale famers who use jatropha mainly as hedge plants, for every kilo of seeds Diligent gives 300 Tsh. Until now Diligent worked with collectors, they collected the seeds from the farmers and were also taking care of the payment. The problem with this method is that it is always unclear how much the farmers actually get and how much sticks to the collector. Therefore Diligent started working with the Tanzanian NGO Faida MaLi. Faida MaLi sets up groups of farmers from the same village. These farmer groups choose a head farmer from amongst their midst; the head farmer is the one who takes care of the selling of seeds to Diligent. Because the head farmer is a part of the group, the process of selling and distributing the money is very transparent.

On my way back from the factory, Jan asks me what stands out most to me on my first visit to Tanzania. I reply him that what has become very clear to me, is how dissatisfied people in Holland are. Jan smiles and says that I hit the nail right on the head, it is exactly the reason why he came to Arusha six years ago.


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