The Msonge organic family arm delivers veggie baskets to your doorstep – a huge success not only during the coronacrisis.
It was the height of the rainy season in Zanzibar. An enormous monsoon downpour had been caressing the thirsty earth nonstop for 14 hours. We were ankle-deep in red mud, before even the first coconut, papaya or much-craved ruccola salad had landed in any delivery basket. “Yes, come to my farm and have a look at how we are operating”, Dr. Mwatima Juma had invited me. Her grandchildren were playing water-sliding in the courtyard.
The 63-year-old herself sat undeterred by the rain in the back of her truck watching her farm workers form a human assembly line, passing on one avocado and papaya at a time to fill-up a good two dozen or so green baskets standing in front of a large wooden stand.
To run a successful organic farm in Africa, on the isle of Zanzibar, requires many talents. Logistics is certainly one of them.
Modeled after Europe’s green boxes
When filled up with fresh produce, the pakachas the size of a laundry-basket were almost too heavy to be lifted by one person. Pakacha is the Swahili term for a traditional basket made of coconut leafs. “We were looking for the right disposable container for our new delivery service”, recalls Mwatima Juma, “I had seen similar operations called ‘green box’ or ‘organic food delivery’ in Europe, especially in
Denmark, and I wanted to start something like that in Zanzibar.” Not only because she sensed a demand but also because the holistic farm, often unable to sell its entire product at a good rate at the market, would benefit from it. Started in 2018, the green service has quickly grown into an island-wide operation with more customers joining by the minute.
What “Mama Pakacha” includes in the basket varies by the season, usually 15 to 16 products, a good mixture of indigenous fruits such as papaya, lime and passion fruit. Starchy vegetables like cassava, cooking bananas and sweet potatoes. Veggies like spinach, radish, okra, cowpeas and a good number of leafy surprises such as chaya, moringa and mtembele (sweet potato shoots), the use and purpose of which would be widely discussed in the customer’s whatsapp-group after delivery. “I have never seen these greens before” begins a typical question accompanied by a photo, “can somebody help me how to cook them?” Last but not least, Mwatima Juma adds spices and herbs like fresh ginger, coriander, rosemary, basil, mint, lemongrass, pili-pili and curry leaves.
Steambath straight from the farm
“We must post an extra note about this” she suddenly says, holding a quite voluminous bunch of undistinguishable leafy green branches in the air.
“This is not for eating but for a traditional steam bath against a running nose, fever, sinus problems”– what better remedy to add during corona times than this collection of 15 different medical plants called nyungu!
Including delivery the basket full of farm goodies costs TZS 20,000, less than ten dollar. Ms. Nachumu, the manager, cooks for guests on the farm and drives the distribution pick-up all over the island. “With corona around, business has been booming”, says lady farmer Juma, “home delivery is very much welcomed when restaurants are closed and you are reminded not to go out shopping out of caution.”
The other advantage is the organic and regionally grown nature of her produce, an option more and more consumers prefer. Theoretically, at least. Expatriates living in Zanzibar do still miss their “cauliflower, apples and iceberg salad”, says Juma with a smile, “but that’s exactly what you cannot have when you shop regionally. Covid-19 and the closure of the airport have taught us a lesson”, Juma says: “Be content with what the season and the region have in store for you.” When some customers were overwhelmed by all the greens and asked how to handle their weekly or twice-weekly supply she advised: “Learn how to share or store.”
As one of her children boils a fresh pot of lemongrass tea for us, we settle down in her modest living quarters on the 15-acres family farm in Shakani on the Fumba peninsula, one of four farms the extended family owns. Mwatima Juma, still in her white T-shirt, black trousers
and Birkenstock sandals, tells me about her life. “I get up every morning around 4:30 to 5:00”, she says, “just to have some little time for myself before everybody else wakes up.” The rest of the day is dictated by farm and her many administrative demands.
Persistency in farming
Besides being a hands-on farmer, Dr. Juma is an agronomist with a doctor degree, she wrote her thesis on “The physiology of coconut”. The mother and grandmother is the country programme officer of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) in Tanzania. This involves seed production and training for a good number of the 200.000 farmers in Zanzibar. “We need more persistency in farming,” she says, “it makes no sense that hotels import 80 per cent of their food supply while Zanzibar farmers are poor and not harvesting enough.”
As the new director of the Practical Permaculture Institute of Zanzibar (PPIZ)she advocates zero-waste farming and permaculture principles: “The more we avoid monoculture, the better,” she says. And then Mama Pakacha has to excuse herself, one of her three mobiles is ringing, her internet designer is on the line expecting directives for her first pakacha app: “Do this and do that”, she says without hesitation – as much a woman of the soil as of strategic thinking.
Place your order here:
Msonge organic family farm pakacha delivery
Monday and Thursday
FB: Msonge Organuc Family Farm
+255 754 536 630