In Tanzania, a practical idea that enables local farmers to supply Barrick Gold’s Bulyanhulu mine has taken root. When Barrick Gold acquired the mine in 1999, management faced the prospect of importing as much as 11,000 kilograms of vegetables every month to feed the workforce. The solution? Encourage local farmers to become suppliers.
Frida Kyesi is the community development manager at the Bulyanhulu mine, located 55 kilometers south of Lake Victoria. When she started work at the mine in 2005, she joined a team dedicated to supporting sustainable development in a region that is home to 38,000 people. What has unfolded over the past three years makes her proud. In particular, she takes pride in the Farmers Support Project, which was developed in partnership with Barrick Gold’s catering service provider.
Local farmers were given seeds for planting, and over time, Barrick Gold agriculturalists trained hundreds of farmers in modern techniques. Today, farmers in the seven communities near the mine have a guaranteed market for their produce.
Kyesi, who grew up 600 kilometers away in Kilimanjaro, admits cultural differences have posed a challenge. Many farmers around the mine had difficulty believing that if they grew quality crops for a guaranteed market, they could earn a steady income for their families, and achieve an improved quality of life. In many areas in Tanzania, fruit growers have little choice but to watch their crops rot for lack of markets.
The agricultural history of the region presented additional challenges. For hundreds of years, families have survived on subsistence crop farming. Farmers grew crops and raised animals to feed the family for a year at a time. In short, you only grow what you eat.
Local farmers needed to learn how to operate as businesses, producing beyond the needs of their families, with an eye to meeting market demands. “They told us they had enough land for agriculture but they were lacking agricultural skills and seeds,” explains Kyesi.
There were other reasons to encourage changes in the region. The growth of gold mining has attracted newcomers and has driven population numbers up dramatically. For example, in 1996 the nearby village of Kakola had fewer than 900 residents. Today, it has a population of 17,000.
Greg Walker is general manager at Bulyanhulu. “Up until now, the plans the villages put forward tended to be shopping lists that were really wish lists for construction projects,” he says.
“What we have now is a good example of what can be done. We call it the farmers co-op. It is making a difference in the local community and it can make a difference for generations to come.”
Kyesi says there is no doubt the program is improving the lives of families who live in the nearby villages of Kakola, Busulwangili, Busindi, Igwamanoni, Bugarama, Ilogi and Buyenga. She says that both Barrick Gold and its catering supplier, Sodexo, have strong policies of buying and hiring locally and corporate cultures that support sustainability.
“Many farmers have built modern houses,” she says. “There has been an improvement in nutrition and increased income for families. The formation of this cooperative has turned the farmers into a cohesive unit and they can decide their affairs democratically. And now our supplier Sodexo has access to local markets and better markets.”
She rhymes off a list of the foods that are now supplied by local farmers. Items like peppers, papaya, lemons, pineapples, rice, bananas. Plans are now underway to organize training sessions for the farmers on growing mushrooms.
“The list of products is expected to grow. Farmers are being encouraged to grow more carrots, beetroots, radishes and potatoes,” says Cyrille Putz, Sustainable Development manager for Sodexo remote sites. The carrot, for example, is relatively unknown locally, so he is suggesting basic training to grow this vegetable.
Today, 91 per cent of Sodexo’s purchasing for the Bulyanhulu operation is in Tanzania. As well, Sodexo is able to supply more than 20 per cent of the fruit and vegetables needed at the mine site from local sources. This figure is up from 12 per cent. Monthly revenue for local farmers is up 50 per cent.
“Through a local network of 24 regular suppliers, we buy from more than 200 farmers,” Putz says. He calculates Sodexho’s service for a typical 1,000 person mining and processing operation in a remote location. “We supply 11,000 kilos of vegetables, 6,100 kilos of poultry and 62,530 eggs per month.”
When Kyesi tallks about it, you know that she has a personal stake in the Farmers Support Project. “I love my job because we help and empower people. This program promises to do that for years to come.”
Farmers near Barrick Gold’s Bulyanhulu operation in Tanzania are now supplying food to the mine through its supplier, Sodexho.
“If we can roll this out into other areas we can make a greater difference,” says Greg Walker. Soon that will be a reality.
Planning is underway to replicate the Farmers Support Project at Bulyanhulu at Barrick Gold’s North Mara mine. North Mara is located in Tanzania about 100 kilometers east of Lake Victoria and 20 kilometers south of the Kenyan border. Sodexo, the catering service provider at Bulyanhulu, has been commissioned to supply North Mara as well.
Cyrille Putz of Sodexo estimates that Bulyanhulu saves as much as US$15,000 per month through the Farmers Support Project and similar savings can be enjoyed at North Mara.
Just as hundreds of local farmers in the region around Bulyanhulu have benefited from the cooperative project, so will farmers and their families in villages around North Mara.