Gittisham graduate aids farmers in Tanzania

Tom Chapman.

Tom Chapman. - Credit: Archant

Voluntary work helps region overcome devastation of banana wilt disease.

Tom Chapamn.

Tom Chapamn. - Credit: Archant

A university graduate from Gittisham has been helping farmers in a remote part of Tanzania fight a financially crippling banana disease.

Tom Chapman, 23, spent three months in Kamachuma, a village in the Kagera region, with Voluntary Service Overseas as part of an international citizenship programme designed for 18 to 25-year-olds.

He says, after gaining a first class honours degree in human geography, he wanted to do something different with his time.

“It was intense,” he admits. “The accommodation and food was very basic, but that was all part of the experience.”

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The former King’s School student was one of 10 UK volunteers who were teamed up with 10 Tanzanians to deliver projects.

They had five objectives: agriculture, youth engagement, health, education and gender equality.

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Tom’s focus was agriculture and he worked in a team of four, which set up a farmers’ forum.

He said: “In 2008 there was an outbreak of banana wilt disease (BXW), which devastated crops.

“As bananas are the staple food for the region, it was causing huge food and income problems with many farmers having to sell off land and livestock in order to feed their families.

“The farmers have a deep-rooted knowledge in traditional farming methods, which have been passed down from generation to generation. However, they lacked the knowledge and training to tackle modern issues.

“In addition, the farmers lacked support networks.”

The forum brought farmers together with local and regional experts to discuss current agricultural and livestock issues and to bridge the gap between modern research and traditional knowledge.

Tom said: “Our first farmers’ forum was a huge success, with over 70 farmers attending.

“We ran a forum every week for the three months. By the end, one of the local farmers, Mr Suleiman, felt as though he had graduated from our sessions and was prepared to hold a session himself for the other farmers.

“One of the agricultural specialists, Mr Erick, was fresh out of university and was finding it difficult to get taken seriously by the locals.

“We provided him with a platform from which he could engage with the local farmers. Through this, he gained respect and has now become a leading resource for the local farmers to go to.”

Tom, who is to study for a masters degree in development studies in London, said volunteering has given him the chance to have a positive impact on a community in Tanzania while developing useful skills and experiencing a new and interesting culture.

“It was good for personal development, leadership, teamwork and important life skills that I can apply to other parts of my life,” he said.

Otter Valley Rotary Club and The King’s School contributed towards the cost of his trip and he wishes to thank them for their support.

Further information about voluntary work overseas can be viewed online at

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