Highlights of Africa RISING closing meetings in Tanzania
Michael Kinyua and Job Kihara
As curtains come down on the implementation of Africa RISING Project activities in Tanzania; many smallholder farmers and project partners are taking time to look back back at their work and take pride in it. Recent project close-out meetings in Babati District served up interesting reflections about just how much was achieved since implementation of the project started in 2013.
Significant Africa RISING outcomes in Babati
- Monitoring data shows that the project’s interventions have led to increased fertilizer use from a paltry 3% to 15% of farmers within the district after debunking long-held myths about fertilizer use.
- The project introduced new fertilizer recommendations and a strip cropping innovation called ‘Mbili-Mbili’ attracting more than USD 100 per hectare additional income for farmers.
- Through the project’s interventions, farmers now also have access to at least 22 improved maize variety options to chose from compared to only six improved varieties in 2013.
These top-line successes provide crucial validation for several years of collaborative and participatory work by both farmers and project partners. Participatory research has been a key foundation to achieving these goals, which underlies the importance of engaging all relevant stakeholders even at this point when the project is ending. The project team organized village and district-level forums to provide crucial updates to farmers and stakeholders.
Africa RISING partners held these forums in six villages (750 households were represented) between 19-20 October. During the forums, farmers were trained on use of fertilizers, manure and crop residues, improved seeds, proper spacing, pest and disease management, post-harvest handling and processing among other aspects.
Moreover, results of soil samples collected from 350 fields, that represented nutrient status in the different agro-ecologies of Babati were handed back to farmers. The first of its kind results were handed to farmers through the village extension agents, with customized field-specific management recommendations in the local language, elevating their morale to improve field management.
‘I will implement more soil fertility improvement plans to ensure my farm has soil results with more green coloration the next time soil sampling is conducted,’ said a farmer, while comparing his traffic light colour scheme of soil analysis results with a fellow farmer.
District-level stakeholder forum
The district forum was held on 21 October bringing together stakeholders’ representatives from 30 government, international research centres, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and private sector companies including the Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute (TARI), Ministry of Agriculture, the Tanzania Official Seed Certification Institute (TOSCI), World Vision, Farm Africa, Meru Agro and Tours and Zam Seed.
‘We organized the district-level stakeholders forum to provide comprehensive feedback and get all the great scientific evidence and practical management solutions in the hands of organizations working directly with farmers,’ said Job Kihara, the project’s principal invetigator.
Among the significant innovations resulting from the 10-year research presented to the different stakeholders was strip cropping popularly known as Mbili-Mbili or ‘made in Babati’. Mbili-Mbili exploits crop spatial patterns to optimize legume production by increasing inter-row spacing, reducing competition for growth resources without compromising maize yields.
‘I will strongly hold on to the Mbili-Mbili technology. Because of it, I now usually harvest 6 bags of beans (Phaseolus vulgaris), 20-30 bags of maize (Zea mays), and up to 10 bags of lablab (Lablab purpureus) which is not manageable in our usual systems,’ said Izaack Laboa, a lead farmer in Riroda village. Laboa is one of the farmers benefiting from the innovation on new crop configuration. He adapted it to relay lablab after harvesting beans, capitalizing on the available soil moisture to establish the crop.
Africa RISING’s lasting footprint
At the village-level forums each farmer received a copy of field manuals translated into their local language (Swahili). The guide contains implementation ready management practices that have been proven through the 10 years of Africa RISING research, the how to, and expected benefits.
‘I am delighted to see all the aspects we were trained on for over seven years documented in a book. Reading it will remind us of what we need to apply even after the project has ended,’ said Hassan Gunda, a farmer in Qash village.
During the stakeholder meeting, the copies of the field guide, an evidence brief and a compendium of stories from farmer voices were officially handed over to the district commissioner and distributed to all participating stakeholders. ‘Let us use the information and knowledge documented in the field guide to transform our smallholder farmers whose livelihoods are anchored on agriculture,’ commissioner Twange urged the extension staff.
The materials provided through Africa RISING and the engagements with researchers are helping us to engage more meaningfully with farmers and have improved my image as an extension office,’ said Macha, an extension officer from Qash village.
The research had been implemented through approaches that included mother-baby trials. Over 50 farmers who had hosted experimental trials and demonstrations and 17 extension staff engaged were awarded certificates of recognition.
Africa RISING’s partnership for scaling model, which is used by the team in Northern Tanzania, is an important social capital and innovation to ride on and scale the already developed agronomy solutions. Working closely with fertilizer company and multiple seed companies, strong partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture (the extension arm) and TARI, Africa RISING has built confidence and credibility and supported farmer behavioural change around agronomy. Over 8,000 farmers have directly benefited from research knowledge on good agronomic practices, new agronomic technologies, and real-time seasonal intelligence delivered through MWANGA, an Africa RISING ICT messaging service.
Providing climate adaptive agronomic solutions to sustainably intensify farming systems by improving food, nutrition, and incomes of smallholder farmers has been the main goal of the Africa RISING project during its 10-year operational period in the East, West and Southern Africa, and the Ethiopian Highlands. Babati and the surrounding, similar, geographies are ripe for an agricultural revolution, building on Africa RISING.