A conservation agriculture program coordinator with MCC partner organization Global Service Corps talks about her work to help farmers in Tanzania grow more food.
When I was growing up in the village of Oloirien in Arusha, Tanzania, my father had a restaurant and bar and a small butcher business. But he also farmed coffee and banana. He was known as an expert in coffee and was one of the local leaders in the coffee industry.
I chose to study agriculture because of my father. I was impressed by his farming.
In 2004 the Tanzania government identified conservation agriculture as a means to increase food production and reduce poverty. I was among the government extension workers who received intensive training in conservation agriculture. Today, as part of my work for the government, I help coordinate the conservation agriculture program of Global Service Corps (an MCC partner organization).
My goal is to train farmers to adopt new technologies in conservation agriculture to increase food production.
We train farmers in groups. Every member in the group is expected to start a demonstration plot. It is working. When we visit farmers who have been trained in groups we see the successes and practices of conservation agriculture spreading.
We want the technology to spread to as many people as possible. Training helps keep the momentum going. I care about my people. I love my people. I want them to get away from hunger. I visit farmers several times a year because I want to see changes. When I see someone doing well, I’m proud and I’m happy.
“I love my people. I want them to get away from hunger.”
Conservation agriculture is helping farmers increase yields but there are other benefits besides food security. Conservation agriculture reduces the cost of production and improves livelihoods. This means that families can have good houses, improved livestock and enough income to buy the things they need. Children can go to school. For women and children, the work is reduced because they don’t have to weed as much. For men, the work is reduced because they don’t need to plow.
Before forming a group, we work with community leaders. In Tanzania, men own the land but much of the agricultural work is done by women. In forming groups, we insist they include both women and men. Groups also bring together Muslims, Christians and those following traditional religions. During training sessions, if there is prayer, they all take turns to pray.
Each group has about 25 to 30 members. Participants attend weekly training sessions for eight weeks, plant a demonstration plot and then attend two training sessions per month for the rest of the year. Each group selects a leader who serves as a motivator and trainer. Additional education is provided to these leaders, and they help government extension workers by following up with farmers and providing some training and reports. This training system is working because we can’t be in the villages all the time. This makes the work stronger.
There are challenges. Instead of plowing, conservation agriculture farmers open planting furrows by using equipment called rippers or subsoilers that break compacted soil and create conditions for seeds to grow and rainfall to infiltrate the soil. Each group shares one implement provided through a project of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the government.
Another challenge is resistance to changing livestock management. Most small-scale farmers have two to 10 head of cattle, five to 15 goats, five to 15 sheep and five to 20 chickens. Farmers should keep livestock, but they should have an area for livestock and an area for agriculture. In most villages, livestock graze freely so you have to train the whole village to keep livestock in confined areas.
In addition to conservation agriculture training, we help groups start savings clubs. The farmers contribute to the savings club and after a while they can take out loans. The good thing is they manage the funds among themselves. Some of the groups contribute a small amount of money to a social fund to help orphans and people with disabilities. These savings clubs are expanding to become saving and credit cooperative societies. We have a number of them already.
(By Flora Kola; as told to Gladys Terichow and Simeon DiGennaro)
Flora Kola, an agricultural extension worker for the Tanzanian government, helps coordinate the conservation agriculture program of Global Service Corps (GSC), an MCC partner organization. MCC, through its account at the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, is contributing $1.2 million toward a three-year conservation agriculture project with GSC. Simeon DiGennaro of Lenox, Mo., is an MCC worker serving with GSC in Tanzania.