Better now with better know-how

In rural areas, the adoption—or non-adoption— of improved agricultural technologies, skills, and knowledge by farmers could spell the difference between getting stuck in a poverty rut or moving forward to better times. In Africa RISING, building the capacity of farmers is a basic tenet, one that has the potential of improving farmers’ lives beyond just the “cash flow”.

In rural areas, the adoption—or non-adoption— of improved agricultural technologies, skills, and knowledge by farmers could spell the difference between getting stuck in a poverty rut or moving forward to better times. In Africa RISING, building the capacity of farmers is a basic tenet, one that has the potential of improving farmers’ lives beyond just the “cash flow”.

Since its inception in early 2012, the IITA-led Africa RISING projects in West Africa and East/Southern Africa have so far benefited more than 40,000 farmers with training on agricultural productivity and food security. Halima Mohamed Katumbu and Kassim Lebora are two such beneficiaries of Africa RISING’s capacity development efforts in Tanzania whose lives have been improved beyond just the economic.

A happy farm family in one of the project areas

Tipping the scales of gender equity

Whenever improved agricultural technologies are introduced to rural smallholder farming communities, quite often the focus is primarily on getting better yields. However, this is not—and should not be—the only determinant of the success of such technologies.

When Halima Mohamed Katumbu, from Mkula irrigation scheme, Kilombero District, first heard of a new group in her community that was training farmers on improved rice production techniques, her first instinct was to share this interesting information with her husband, Hassan Luheche, who was less than enthused about it.

Halima and Hassan, parents of four, had been rice farmers for over 10 years, but despite their best efforts to get optimal yields from their 2-acre paddy, the most they ever harvested was 1440 kg of unmilled rice. They know that they should be getting more, but they did not know how. Furthermore, their earnings became less after having the rice milled, which also cost money. “My husband and I used to prepare the rice paddy together. However, since we hadn’t had any good harvests lately, he’s lost interest in growing rice, leaving the task almost entirely to me. I wanted to join the training group, but he did not support the idea as he saw no value in it. But I insisted, so he eventually gave in and allowed me to join,” narrates Halima.

After joining the group, Halima got trained on advanced rice production techniques (good agricultural practices) and was introduced to improved rice varieties, which she immediately adopted and planted in her paddy. The combination of adopting the new rice varieties and good agronomic practices produced visible positive results early in the growing season, prompting a change of opinion about the group from her husband.

“After seeing some progress, my husband also got interested and even joined me in the training offered by the group. So far we’ve been introduced to new rice varieties like TXD 306 and Komboka, which I am now growing. We have also been trained on improved practices that ensure we get the most yields from our paddies such as correct application of fertilizer, the best planting methods, rice paddy management, and proper postharvest practices,” says Halima.

After adopting the technologies and recommendations, Halima and Hassan were rewarded with an initial harvest of nearly 2000 kg of unmilled rice in the 2015 cropping season. She expects a much better harvest in the coming seasons as they continue to apply and get better at applying the skills she learned and using the best rice varieties to grow.

Halima standing in her 2-acre rice paddy field. After following the good agronomic practices she was trained on by Africa RISING-NAFAKA project staff, she harvested nearly 2000 kg of unmilled rice, a feat she and her husband had never achieved in the 10 years that they had been rice farmers.

“My husband and I anticipate that we will see much better harvests ahead, which will be more than enough for home consumption. The surplus we will sell to earn more income,” says Halima.

“But for me,” Halima adds, “one of the more ‘silent’ achievements we’ve made is the fact that our husbands are now getting more involved in rice production and sharing the tasks and resources with us women. We now share responsibilities at the farm because of the positive results of adopting these improved agricultural technologies and practices.”

“Our husbands now equally share with us the proceeds from rice sales. The other women in our training group also tell me that their husbands have become less frustrated and conflicts in their households have gone down.”

Facilitating women’s equitable access to improved agricultural technology can spur their economic advancement and stimulate broader economic growth. In many cases, this is more crucial to the long-term development of a community than just an increase in yields or better incomes.

Halima is just one of the 223 smallholder farmers working with Dakawa Agricultural Research Institute (ARI Dakawa) through the Africa RISING-NAFAKA project in Kilombero District, Tanzania to improve rice production by rural smallholder farming communities. The project is focused on the maize, rice, and vegetable value chains and is introducing and promoting improved varieties, disseminating best-bet agronomic management packages, and introducing and promoting postharvest management technologies.

From shelling to shillings

Kassim Lebora was among a group of 25 farmers from Dihinda Village in Mvomero District, Tanzania, that were trained by the Africa RISING– NAFAKA project partners on improved postharvest management of cereals and legumes.

“That training in November of 2015 exposed me for the first time to various postharvest technologies and opened my eyes to the numerous opportunities therein. It became clear to me that the challenges we had been facing all along in my community particularly with harvesting, shelling, and storage of grains were solvable issues, with ready technologies to overcome them,” says Kassim.

At the training, one of the technologies introduced to participants was the motorized maize shelling machine. “After I saw and learned about the motorized maize sheller, it suddenly dawned on me that this machine represented a lucrative business opportunity,” Kassim revealed. “There and then, I decided to buy one and start up a shelling business in the village. I had been saving up money to buy a tractor someday, but this idea was quickly replaced by the desire to get that maize shelling machine,” he added.

He noted that the motorized sheller, besides reducing farmers’ yield losses, also solved the labor demand and workload challenges that have dogged farmers in his village, who over the years have left this laborious postharvest task to women and children.

Kassim turned the postharvest challenge into a business. In one month during the after-harvest season of August 2016, Kassim earned TShs 790,000 (about $350) from the maize shelling business. He charges each farmer TShs 2000 (less than $1 dollar) for a bag of maize shelled. Farmers of Dihinda Village appreciate Kassim’s business because of the value it brings to the community.

“Kassim’s maize sheller machine takes our village to the next level; it reduces the workload for many farmers, and since he belongs to our farming group, we are very happy for his development,” explains Melkior Mhagama, one of several farmers benefiting from Kassim’s business venture.

Kassim plans to save part of his earnings to buy another shelling machine so that he could expand his business to neighboring villages. Having experienced first-hand how modern innovations introduced through projects like Africa RISING–NAFAKA have changed his life, Kassim advises other farmers: “Embrace the opportunities created by new technologies to improve your lives; you have nothing to lose.” Over the last two years, the Africa RISING– NAFAKA project has been implementing participatory efforts to boost adoption of viable postharvest solutions by farmers in five regions of Tanzania: Dodoma, Iringa, Manyara, Mbeya, and Morogoro. The project raises awareness by showcasing the value of the technological solutions first-hand to the farmers and communities. Through the initiative, farmers have so far been exposed to the various postharvest technologies such as the Grainpro Super Grain Bag, maize shelling machine, and collapsible drier case.

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Kassim Lebora cleans his maize sheller machine in Dihinda Village in Mvomero District, Tanzania.
ORCID: 0000-0002-2530-6554

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