What would you like to search for?

Tales of Climate Change from the Onion Market Stall
© Mahilia Amatina
A typical African market stall

I have lived in Masasi for more than two years now, the few people I know are my colleagues and few neighbors around the house I rented. My house is located on the outskirt of the small town, a quiet and a bit slow neighborhood but a very friendly, safe and easy to commute to the office and elsewhere.
One thing I always look forward is my morning trips to the market place. For me it’s an opportunity to get fresh food at reasonable prices, take a good walk under the morning warm sun and mostly socializing. At the market I get to make new friends chat up with people and real get the feeling of the happenings. It’s always lovely as I always learn a few things, get updates and laugh at life.
I leave my house at 6:00 am and get to the market at 6:30. As I approach the market its like getting near a very colorful beehive. A lot of distance chats, callings, busy people walking in and out trading. You can’t fail to notice the colorfulness due to plenty of food from kale to tomatoes to carrots oh what a fresh rainbow!  The air is always fresh spiced with onion smells blended with oranges and pineapples a tropical aroma.
Having made my list before leaving home I just know how to navigate the market to get what I needed. Growing up mama taught us how to arrange a basket when shopping a trick I stick to. Put hard/heavier stuff at the bottom  to avoid them squishing things like tomatoes. I made my way to the lady who sold cassava and sweet potatoes on a mat. I said hello had a short chat about Ramadan. Packed my sweet potatoes and moved on to a charming old man at an onions stall.

© WWF Tanzania
Floods in Tanzania

“Assalamu alaikum Ndugu’’I said.
“Alaikum assalam,What can I get you  lady? delighted he replied with a smile.
I want onions, I said he smiled and looked down
‘’Let me be honest with you, you may not like what you hear but the price had dramatically changed since the last time you were here. It’s now 5,000 per kilo. At Mtwara a kilo is now 6000/= so be grateful. I am a honest business man’’ noted Hamisi with a serious voice.
I gasped ‘’What? really! I said looking at very tiny ill looking onions. I can’t say they were in bad shape so far, they were better than the other I have seen as I walked in the market.
He handed me over a plastic bowl and told me to choose for myself. As I was choosing two more women came in and had the same reaction as I did. After I had my bowl half full, I took to Hamisi for weighing. I decided to try understand what drives the onion prices.
“It’s like every other month we have food of the month whose price spikes. Few months tomatoes were like diamond now they are very cheap. Will we experience the same with onions? Why are they (onions) expensive? i asked
“My dear, climate change is upon us. We have floods everywhere and the worst part is onions don’t like much water. It’s not like rice padding, onions require enough sunshine and dryness to produce. Buckle up things will get worse not only in onions. Many food crops require water moderately. And, with the corona virus limiting our movement food prices will balloon. Farmers have had a really beatdown and we will feel it too’’.
‘’Is this the first time we are facing floods?’’ I asked curiously

© Gladith Yoabu
effects of drought

“No, but now it’s severe. we can’t be naive the weather changes like women’s fashion. We can’t even predict what will be next even by looking at the skies. When I was a young man this is a rainy season now look how many times has it rained since January. We need to listen to the changes. I think it’s a message. Your organization teaches people about climate change I think we should listen’’ said Hamisi looking concerned.
Well, glad to hear you pay attention we should act NOW I said as I paid and left to allow him to serve other customers.
As I unpacked my basket, I began to think of my discussion with Hamisi. In most African dishes’ onion is a key ingredient. We can so much do without tomatoes by substituting it with carrots or pawpaw. But Onions are irreplaceable and so is food in general.
 I stopped for a moment to wonder what next, which food price will rise? How our lives will be changed and how we will cope. And how much we are prepared especially in remote areas where we have limited food surplus. Where most food production is for the household consumption and few remaining for income generation.
I asked myself how many people are like Hamisi and can connect the dots between climate change and our food systems. Are we aware that if we don’t address climate crisis now there will be no food on our tables?
Climate crisis put a strain on food production and how we relate to nature. Our means to produce food has to change. This can mean change at individual household in how we produce food and store it cutting down food wastage. We can adopt small scale food production by adopting kitchen garden and revisit our traditional food storage mechanism. I recall when I was young my people will dry almost all type of food during abundancy. This will weather us through the uncertainty and promote nutrition for our families, save money with lesser damage to nature.

© canva
Diana Shuma Photo
Diana Shuma

Diana Shuma is the Project Manager for WWF Tanzania's Leading the Change