Dorset farmer Robert Lasseter and his trip to Tanzania raising money for Farm Africa's Food for Good campaign
PUBLISHED: 16:41 19 March 2014 | UPDATED: 16:41 19 March 2014
Last autumn Dorset farmer Robert Lasseter joined a team of food industry leaders from the ‘big name’ supermarkets to help raise money for Farm Africa’s Food for Good campaign by trekking across Tanzania
A farmer’s lot in East Africa is very different to my own back in Dorset. Many are literally subsisting from day-to-day with hunger always a threat, which is why I got involved with Farm Africa.
The charity was established in 1985 by Sir Michael Wood and David Campbell, who shared a vision of a prosperous rural Africa, and established Farm Africa in response to the famine in Ethiopia. Today Farm Africa, whose ethos is to ‘end hunger and grow farming’, provides support in five East African countries – Ethiopia, South Sudan, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania.
Before we started our fundraising challenge we visited a couple of Farm Africa projects to see their work in action. The first was in the Nou Forest, situated on the rift in Central Tanzania. Here farmers are being encouraged to find more sustainable sources of income such as honey production and mushroom growing, rather than the slash and burn subsistence agriculture. This was essential as the Nou Forest acts like the region’s lungs attracting rainfall, which in turn improves crop production on the plains below the rift.
We then visited the Sesame Project at Babati where farmers are being encouraged to grow sesame seeds as a cash crop. Farm Africa have helped them to find more productive varieties, offered growing advice, provided central warehouse storage and established a co-operative which markets the crop direct with exporters so the farmers get the best possible price. This in turn means they can pay for better housing and educating their children and the community becomes self sufficient.
After visiting these inspirational projects we then embarked on the fundraising part - a sponsored trek across the Tanzanian Highlands, a route which has only ever been done by experienced local Masai tribesman! The route runs between two soda (salt) lakes - Eyasi and Natron – and through Africa’s volcanic region.
Walking boots, thick comfortable socks and broiling heat are not a good combination. Everyone had their own views about what to wear and how to prepare their feet. Fortunately I got it right and remained blister-free, but others became regulars at the thrice daily blister clinic run by Julian, who was ex Army, and knew a thing or two about dealing with painful blisters. We couldn’t have done this gruelling trek without our fantastic support team who carried our tents and food.
I had done as much training as I could for this trek by cycling around the hilly countryside near my farm. However it soon became obvious that our armchair calculations of walking 8 hours a day, at 3 miles an hour - was a seriously woeful underestimate. At the end of the first day, it was clear that in order to get the highly paid executives of our largest supermarkets back behind their desks by the following Monday morning we would be walking all the hours of daylight to complete the job. The challenge ahead of us was the equivalent of walking from Bridport to Big Ben without a map, through the bush, in searing heat, following animal tracks.
This was the first time any white man (or woman) had undertaken this journey and our guide, Ake, was using a single-sheeted glossy tourist map with a dirty road marked on it; so he was reliant on local Masai tribesmen for the finer details of the route.
We started at Lake Eyasi, at the foot of the Rift and flogged up the steep scarp in the midday sun - as only mad dogs and Englishmen can do. By the afternoon we were walking through thorny acacia scrub, but frankly we were too tired to notice our legs getting ripped to shreds. Ignoring a roaring camp fire, we collapsed into our tents that evening keen to regain our strength.
The following morning we set off at 7.30am with a promise of an earlier finish from Ake. I should have smelt a rat when he cut the lunch break to 15 minutes. By the end of the second exhausting day the atmosphere had changed. Whether high flying executive or Dorset farmer, we had become a close knit team united by one common thought: “However are we all going to get to the finish?”
Over the next few days, thoughts of sore feet and aching limbs rapidly faded as the breathtaking vistas of the Serengeti stretched before us complete with zebra, giraffe and all manner of big game. After six long days of trekking we all made it to Lake Natron crossing the finish line together.
“Was it all worth it?” I was asked. “Without a doubt,” I reply. It has been a real privilege to be part of a world first and to date Farm Africa’s Food for Good programme has raised £525,000 primarily through this sponsored trek. And, as a Dorset farmer, I am proud to have helped fellow farmer’s improve their lives and those of their families.
Donate to Farm Africa’s Food for Good campaign