Bull Sessions Foster Out-of-the-Box Thinking in Africa

by Janna Marlies Maron on April 1, 2014

Editor’s note: this is a guest post by Cinde Dolphin.

My skill set does not include farming basics. I’m moderately good at brand marketing. I’ve been told I have a knack for building creative business campaigns. I can organize a special event–given enough resources.

My volunteer assignment in Tanzania, Africa did not require any of the above-mentioned skills. Mkombozi, a women’s micro-lending cooperative, looked to me to help improve their farming businesses. (Mkombozi is Swahili for redemption.) The members, Mamas as we call them, asked me questions like, “How do I increase my yield?” and, “Is there better soil management?” Initially, I was overwhelmed. Their questions were meant for agricultural professionals. What sort of help was I capable of providing?

One of our most successful solutions came from creative thinking, not from the farmer’s almanac.

During one of the Bull Sessions while I was there, the Mamas shared that their tomato plants produced more than enough fruit for the dry season, but during seasonal rains, tomatoes just did not grow. They asked how to preserve tomatoes for more than a week or two. And, the solution needed to require zero-to-little investment.

I asked if they were familiar with sun-drying fruits or vegetables. A discussion ensued about a group of women in another village who were drying mangoes. It was as much as they knew about sun-drying, but they wanted to find out more.

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Over the next few weeks, the Bull Session meetings focused on learning about preparation, application and storage of sun-dried tomatoes. We tested different materials and methods of drying, eventually settling on window screen material (less than $4) placed over a tray as a drying rack. The last ingredient–salt–is a staple in every kitchen. So with very little investment the mamas had a practical solution to preserving vegetables from their gardens.

And it was especially memorable to see them experience zip-lock storage bags for the first time. The Mamas delighted in trying out meals using their sun-dried vegetables.

Then someone alerted us to a nearby natural food cooperative. We started communicating with the business by email about our product, then one of the Mamas and I scheduled a face-to-face meeting. As a result, the co-op founder paid a personal visit to one of Mkombozi’s regular business meetings. He informed the group about training sessions, quality standards and costs associated with purchase of commercial equipment. Six of the women begin their training this month. They plan to sell the dried produce to the cooperative and increase their families’ income.

Mkombozi found a solution for expanding their farming businesses by thinking “out of the box,” or maybe “out of the field.”

Cinde Dolphin is an independent marking consultant and frequent attendee at ThinkHouse’s weekly Bull Session. Read more about her adventures in Africa on her blog

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