Ethiopia: Crop rotation, intercropping, and mulching help farmers improve soil fertility and productivity
Daniel Lungo is a small-scale farmer who grows soya beans in Utiga, a village in Njombe Region, in the Southern Highlands of Tanzania, where the weather is cold and the soil is sandy.
Mr. Lungo is a father of five. He has been growing soya beans on his half-acre farm for the past three years. For him, 2016 was a very successful year. He managed to get a much better harvest than previous years.
Mr. Lungo says this was only possible with new techniques, like using fertilizer and an inoculant. Mr. Lungo prepares his field for planting with oxen. Then he mixes his soya bean seed with an inoculant called LegumeFix, which contains rhizobia bacteria, which improves nitrogen fixation in the soil.
Mr. Lungo also uses DAP fertilizer during planting and after weeding to boost his yield, although he acknowledges that it’s expensive. He says, “We buy 50 kilograms of fertilizer for 60,000 Tanzanian shillings ($26 US)…. This is very expensive for a common farmer.”
Some farmers can afford to buy fertilizer, but for others it’s too costly. In Tanzania, some farmers receive subsidized fertilizer from the government. This fertilizer costs as little as 30,000 Tanzanian shillings ($13 US), but the amount is limited to 50 kilograms, which covers just one acre. And, as there is a limited supply of subsidized fertilizer, many farmers do not receive it.
While soya beans are leguminous crops that improve soil fertility by fixing nitrogen in the soil, Mr. Lungo says fertilizers can help soya bean farmers get better harvests. He explains, “Our area contains sandy soil that needs fertilizer. Without applying fertilizers during planting time and after weeding, we cannot get bumper harvests.”
While Tanzanian farmers only receive a small amount of government-subsidized fertilizer, Geoffrey Kirenga says that the government’s program has had a side benefit: increasing farmers’ awareness of the need for fertilizer.
Mr. Kirenga is the CEO of Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania Centre Ltd., or SAGCOT. SAGCOT is a public-private partnership that aims to develop the area’s agricultural productivity and profitability. Mr. Kirenga says, “More farmers are now aware of the need to use improved inputs, although the tonnage is still low.”
He says the government’s subsidy program started in 2003, when Tanzanian farmers were using less than 100,000 metric tonnes of fertilizer per year. Fertilizer usage has tripled to 300,000 metric tonnes, but Mr. Kirenga says this is still low. He adds, “More should be done, and that includes testing the soil to ensure we only use what is needed. It saves money and is also good for the soil and the environment.”
Frank Mwagike has been growing soya bean in Wanging’ombe village for more than 15 years. When he started, he was not using improved seeds, or fertilizers and insecticides. He says, “During that time, I was growing for domestic consumption only, because there was no market for the crop.”
Now he is growing soya bean on a three-quarter-acre plot and using inputs to increase his harvest. He applies fertilizer twice during the growing season: during planting and after weeding.
Mr. Mwagike points to the support of Farm Input Promotions Africa for encouraging him to invest in soya bean production and inputs such as fertilizer. This NGO supports farmer groups in Njombe Region.
Deo Msemwa is the operations manager of Farm Input Promotions Africa. He explains: “We provide farmers with agricultural inputs like … quality declared seeds and fertilizer, among others.”
“Quality declared seeds” are seeds produced by farmers under the supervision of the Tanzania Official Seed Certification Institute, which declares them fit to be sold commercially. Mr. Lungo is planting declared quality varieties that are high-yielding and resistant to disease.
Farmers in Njombe have seen the effects of climate change this year. Many farmers expected to plant in early January, but had to wait until February to plant because the rains had not arrived. But Wanging’ombe extension officer Issa Kimaro believes soya bean farmers can still get a good harvest.
Mr. Msemwa adds: “These inputs are necessary because they [make the crop] drought-tolerant and resistant to diseases, and we are sure that if farmers would properly apply them, they can get [a] bumper harvest, despite the challenges of climate change.”
This work was carried out with the aid of a grant from the International Development Research Centre, Ottawa, Canada, www.idrc.ca, and with financial support from the Government of Canada, provided through Global Affairs Canada, www.international.gc.ca
Photo credit: H. Zell