Elda Mmary: Helping Tanzania smallholders make smart farming choices against the odds
Written by Gloriana Ndibalema and Jonathan Odhong’
Becoming an agricultural extension officer was her childhood dream, her aspiration. And now she is living that dream – working as an extension officer with the Africa RISING project in Babati District, Tanzania.
Despite being a single mother to a three-year-old daughter, Elda Mmary has found the perfect balance between her responsibilities as a parent and her duties as an agricultural extension officer.
‘When I was young, I admired the agricultural extension officers working in my village. I actually prayed to be one because they seemed so knowledgeable. They always had answers to the questions people had about agriculture,’ Mmary explains reflectively.
Mmary has been associated with Africa RISING project activities in Babati since 2012. Her involvement started with initial project activities on adaptation of promising crop management technologies to land and production environments, and improved post-harvest technologies for improving household nutrition and income. These activities were led by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) respectively. Currently, she is working with farmers on activities led by the World Vegetable Center (AVRDC) to integrate vegetables into the maize-based farming systems of Babati District.
After nearly five years working with farmers on the project, Mmary has gathered interesting experiences and lessons on the role played by extension officers in helping farmers to adopt new, better and improved agricultural technologies and practices.
‘Farmer training through demonstrations and trials work,’ she declares. ‘The training provided by the project has contributed immensely to creating a change among farmers to adopt better farming practices. A good example of change in Babati is the steady elimination of the misconception among farmers that fertilizer use “kills” the soils. Through farmer education and training we have proved to them that this is just a myth,’ she explains.
Mmary is quick to also point out that farmer education is a critical component to ensure sustainability of new interventions introduced through projects like Africa RISING. This new knowledge, she explains, isn’t only beneficial to farmers but also to the extension agents who take the new knowledge beyond the project villages.
However, every success has its challenges. For her, the attitude of some of the farmers is a significant barrier.
‘Some farmers expect cash compensation whenever they are involved in a research project like Africa RISING. Others are also sometimes selfish with project equipment entrusted to them and refuse to share them with fellow farmers,’ she explains. ‘At a personal level, one of the biggest hindrances to my work is the distances I have to travel in the course of my duties moving from one village to the next. I sometimes end up spending more time than necessary on the road than preferably being in the field and working with farmers,’ she adds.
Asked about other farmer needs that the project should address, Mmary says that access to markets should be a future priority. This is because, in her opinion, once the farm productivity goes up, farmers start looking for and need markets to sell their produce.