My love and appreciation for cycling has been evolving a bit in my old age (ya boy is passed mid twenties now). There was a time when bike races were the only thing in the world that mattered to me. And while mountain bikes are what have showed me the world, they have ironically also opened my eyes to things that now mean much more to me than FTP and shaving grams.
A perfect example of the greater power of cycling is K2N, which is why I’ve found myself so drawn to the event. Don’t get me wrong – a race up and then down Mt Kilimanjaro and across historic, never-before-ridden single track is more than enough to get on my calendar. And at first glance it may seem like that’s all it is. However, the race itself is just a window for the world to peer into a noble cause being led by race founder, Brett Harrison.
There are numerous groups of people across the region in Tanzania that K2N races across. Once nomadic, these groups have since been forced to settle and resort to farming. With no formal training or heritage/tradition of farming, overcoming the challenging growing conditions have left most farmers struggling to even feed their families.
Brett moved to the area ten years ago. After being introduced to the full scope of the agricultural issues and devastating consequences of a low crop yield, he felt obligated to get involved and lend a hand.
Today he is still in Tanzania working alongside local farmers and helping them identify solutions and best practices to working in these challenging growing conditions, while finishing up a master’s degree in Agronomy and Soils from Auburn’s College of Agriculture. In an article published at the College, Brett sums up the philosophy perfectly:
“I believe the way forward is by walking alongside farmers–not in front of them.”
So what does this have to do with K2N? Well, the simplest answer is that a portion of profits from the race go towards these agricultural development and advancement efforts. Even more though, it represents one of the most powerful forms of social entrepreneurship in the world; where you take your passion (mountain biking) and use it to make the world a better place. Brett’s mission in Tanzania is one most of us never would have heard of. However, through our common love of cycling, we’re able to get an up-close view of one man’s mission to improve the world, lend a small hand, and get inspired for a calling our own.
Mountain bikes have been my connection to people and causes all around the globe that have changed my life. I think this is why I’ve found myself loving my bike more than ever these days despite the sparsest race calendar in years.
With that, please enjoy these photos showing us just how mountain biking can change the world:
Sustainable agriculture development work requires the involvement of early adopters and innovators. Brett is fortunate to have found Yohana, who is both. Yohana was not only the first person in his village to adopt conservation agriculture techniques, but he regularly experiments with new ideas based on the science he‘s learned. He actively creates solutions to agricultural problems, rather than waiting for an organization to give him instructios. (Sadly, many agriculture development organizations offer prescribed approaches instead of fostering creativity and critical thinking.)
The Datooga are traditionally pastoralists who have been forced to settle down and begin farming, but who have received little to none agriculture education. Here Brett is demonstrating the use of planting basins which allow for more efficient manure fertilizer placement while also reducing tillage and allowing for earlier planting.
One bucket of two in Ng’wakiwasha village’s first tilapia harvest. These Sukuma farmers have studied fish farming with Brett for 14 months, and will soon themselves begin teaching seminars on the subject, which will include both theory and practice.
This race for real goes up Mt. Kilimanjaro and across Tanzania. Did I mention that?
Same Datooga seminar, with all participants practicing digging planting basins while at the same time setting up a small demonstration plot.
Same first fish harvest.
Just a nice pic of farmer bicycle transport in Brett’s truck.
Brett and a few of his Sukuma farmer friends run a small research farm which doubles as a classroom space for visiting groups. Here a group is learning about mucuna, a legume we grow in rotation with maize to produce large amounts of biomass and nitrogen, as well as to cover the soil (erosion prevention, weed suppression, rainwater penetration, and many other benefits).