Student - January 27, 2011

Ploughing through the mud in Tanzania

Who: Goke Peters, MSc student of International Land and Water Management
What? Research internship on the development of irrigation systems installed by farmers themselves
Where: At the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania
Why? 'Studies have suggested that farmers were irrigating illegally and I wanted to find out if that was true.'

'I went ploughing through the fields by mountainbike with my interpreter to interview farmers and map out the channels. There were hardly any maps of the area and its irrigation systems. I discovered that the irrigation is not illegal, but is unplanned. The farmers were copying the new irrigation system that had been installed downstream, by dint of hard labour and very basic technology. The government was not keen on that but the farmers got water rights anyway.
On one occasion when I was out without my interpreter, it started to rain. That changes everything: everyone vanishes and the clay road turns into a sort of slide. I was stuck by a stream in the pouring rain in my rain cape, and I had no idea how to get across to the other side. Then a man emerged from the forest, carrying a knife and three bunches of bananas. He offered to carry me across. I was amazed to be treated with so much kindness by a total stranger.
I also made friends with a watchman at the hostel where I was staying. He had made a draughts set from cardboard and bottletops, on which we played every evening, and I lost every time. If he had to pop out to get something to eat or drink he would ask me to look after his gun. The high point was climbing Kilimanjaro, though. A bizarre expedition, with things like wooden tables and chairs and heated tents being portered up. I didn't find the climb very hard at all, except for the last part when you walk along the edge of a crater for a while. Altitude sickness made me very light-headed and not at all coordinated. I skipped up to the top, hugging the guide, while others were throwing up. So I was really lucky there.
Afterwards it turned out that I had photographed my research area from the top of Kilimanjaro. I can see on the photos which areas are irrigated, and it matches my GPS readings exactly. I could have saved myself a lot of bother...'