WHEN she joined her husband in Mtii village in Same, Sarah Fariji found people there growing ginger. She joined the frenzy in 2004, planting six bags of ginger on half an acre of land.
Currently, she has three acres of ginger and mobilises farmers to export the spice to Kenya. In Mtii village, and Mamba Miamba Ward in Same District, almost everyone grows ginger. That is what Sarah discovered eight years ago when, as a newly married bride, she arrived in Mtii village to start a new life with her husband.
While other villages located along Dar es Salaam-Moshi highway grow a variety of crops to sell to passing motorists, this village seemed obsessed with ginger. No family worth its name can exist without a ginger garden in the backyard or a rented piece of land.
It has become a status symbol,' she says. Only a small portion of land is spared to grow food crops like bananas, sweet potatoes, beans and cassava. The rest is used to grow ginger. With everyone around her growing the popular spice, the farmer was soon thrown into the ginger-growing frenzy in 2005. She started with two bags of ginger rhizomes, grown on half an acre of land.
Her first yield was six bags, which could easily have earned her more than a million shillings if she had put them on the market. With more planting stock, she was able to plant a bigger area, leading to a higher yield. Today, she is more obsessed with ginger growing than some of the people she found already growing the spice.
For labour, she mainly relies on her seven children except for the few times when there is a lot of work, especially during spraying and harvesting periods. Since everyone in Mtii was growing the spice, she had no shortage of advisers on how to do the work successfully.
She soon started consulting bigger traders who used to come and buy her spices. With three acres of local variety and five of the hybrid type, she is one of the leading ginger farmers in the area. Her success with ginger has brought her fame. The hybrid variety, which requires a lot of water, is planted twice a year, that is in January and June, which coincides with the onset of the rainy seasons in the area.
The hardy local variety can be planted any time of the year because it can survive the dry season. Ginger thrives in rich black loam soils and does not do so well in sandy, salty soils. The ginger rhizomes are broken into small fingers which are dried in the sun for four consecutive days.
They are then packed in a sack until they sprout. The rhizomes are then ready for planting. When planting, ginger is spaced like beans, but should be buried deeper. A day after planting a layer of manure (coffee husks or chicken droppings) is applied.
This can be done with a hand hoe or by spraying the weeds with diluted weed master chemical. This should be done before the plants exceed 7-10 inches in height. During the weeding process, soil is heaped around the plant base, to stimulate rhizome growth. Weeding is carried out twice.
A day after the first weeding, the plants need to be sprayed with Dithane (4-5 table spoons mixed with Booster (one cover per 20litres). This protects them from different pests. Thereafter, spraying is done once a month if it is dry season, or twice a month during a wet season.
The spraying stops when the crop is five months old (hybrid) and eight months for the local variety. Harvesting ginger is similar to harvesting sweet potatoes. It is dug up with a hand hoe, carefully to avoid bruising. The local variety harvest is first washed before packing it for the market.
Under ideal conditions, a farmer can expect to harvest ten sacks of hybrid ginger or five of the local variety from one acre of land. With her fortune from ginger growing and trading, she is able to pay fees for her seven children. Her husband passed away a few years ago.
The biggest problem facing ginger farmers is lack of planting stock at the beginning of every new season, having sold off everything during the previous one. Most beginners also find it hard to get enough planting stock, referred to in farming parlance as starting capital.
It takes about four bags of ginger planting stock, costing about sh1m to plant one acre. What most cash strapped beginning farmers do, is to start with small plots and keep on building their capital base. Once in a while, there is a glut on the market during harvest period, forcing the ginger farmers to reduce their prices.
However, this never lasts longer than two months. Ginger originates from India and China. It takes its name from the Sanskrit word stringa-vera, which means with a body like a horn, as in antlers. Ginger has been important in Chinese medicine for many centuries, and is mentioned in the writings of Confucius.
It is also named in the Quaran, the sacred book of the Muslims. This indicates that it was known in Arab countries back in 650 A.D. Ginger was one of the earliest spices known in Western Europe, used since the ninth century. It became so popular in Europe that it was included in every table setting, like salt and pepper.
A common article of medieval and renaissance trade, it was one of the spices used against the plague. In English pubs and taverns in the nineteenth century, barkeepers put out small containers of ground ginger for people to sprinkle into their beer - the origin of ginger ale.
Although often called ginger root, it is actually a rhizome. It is available in various forms of grated ginger, ground ginger, sliced, pickled in sweet vinegar or in a salt-sugar mixture. Ginger can also be grown indoors and it makes a lovely and useful house plant if the right conditions are met.
Ginger is most commonly known for its effectiveness as a digestive aid. By increasing the production of digestive fluids and saliva, ginger helps relieve indigestion, gas pains, diarrhoea and stomach cramps. Ginger root is also used to treat nausea related to both motion sickness and morning sickness.
Ginger's anti-inflammatory properties helps relieve pain and reduce inflammation associated with arthritis, rheumatism and muscle spasms. Ginger's therapeutic properties effectively stimulate circulation of blood, removing toxins from the body, cleansing the bowels and kidneys, and nourishing the skin.
Other uses for ginger root include the treatment of asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory problems by loosening and expelling phlegm from the lungs. Ginger root may also be used to help break fevers by warming the body and increasing perspiration.
Ginger has long been said to have aphrodisiac powers, taken either internally or externally. In the Philippines ginger is chewed to expel evil spirits. It is a known diaphoretic, meaning it causes one to sweat.