Tanzania: Farmers use different tools to expand no-till farmland

March 26, 2018
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It’s seven o’clock in the morning, and Isaya Joseph is working on his two-acre piece of land. Farming is his sole source of income. He says, “Farming is my job. It’s what feeds me and my family.”

Mr. Joseph lives in Chihanga village, about 30 kilometres from Dodoma, the capital city of Tanzania.

Although he earns enough from farming to support his family, climate change and prolonged droughts in recent years have affected his crops and reduced his yields. To deal with it, the 27-year-old started practicing conservation agriculture in 2015. Since that time, Mr. Joseph has gradually stopped tilling his soil and his yields have increased.

No-till is a conservation agriculture practice that grows crops without disturbing the soil through tillage. In many areas, it reduces soil erosion, increases soil moisture, and enhances soil health.

Mr. Joseph says it’s challenging to convert from conventional farming to conservation agriculture. But, he says, it rewards farmers with enough food for the family and surplus for sale.

He adds: “What takes time is tilling the planting basins needed to sow the crop and add the fertilizer. But if you start early in the season, I am sure you can finish a large piece of land.”

Mr. Joseph is one of the few farmers in his area who have converted completely to no-till or reduced tillage conservation agriculture. He says, “As you get committed, it is very simple to adopt and is less expensive than ploughing.”

He says farmers can adopt the no-till method gradually. He started with a quarter-acre in 2015, and now uses no-till on his whole two-acre field.

Mr. Joseph says that, when starting conservation agriculture practices such as no-till, a farmer needs tools such as hand hoes for making planting basins, ropes to ensure that planting lines are straight, and a tape to measure the distance from one planting station to the next and from one row to the next.

But using these tools can be time-consuming. It takes a long time to complete an acre of planting basins, and the heavy work discourages some farmers from practicing conservation agriculture on a large area.

Samwel Elinuru is the extension worker in the area. He advises farmers to use implements such as the Magoye ripper, power tiller ripper, or subsoiler to extend their conservation agriculture practices to larger areas of land.

The Magoye ripper consists of a frame that is attached to a standard plough beam, and on this frame is fixed a tine that “rips” a deep line in the soil when pulled by two oxen. It penetrates the soil deeply, but, unlike a regular plough, it doesn’t turn the soil over, which can result in soil erosion. A power tiller ripper is motorized and works faster than a Magoye ripper.

Mr. Elinuru says a power tiller ripper costs between 500,000 and 600,000 Tanzania shillings (US$220-265) while a Magoye ripper costs around 70,000 Tanzania shillings (US$30).

He adds, “Some farmers also use motorized equipment, including motorized planters, but such technology hasn’t gained popularity here.”

Mr. Elinuru says that the Tanzanian government donated a power tiller ripper and a Magoye ripper to each village that is practicing conservation farming in the area. In Chihanga village, a farmers’ group received the donation. Each farmer pays 17,000 Tanzania shillings (US$7.60) per acre to use the equipment.

Now that farmers have access to this equipment, Mr. Elinuru says, many of them are practicing no-till farming. He explains, “I can tell you that at least 80% of our farmers have increased their no-till plots from a quarter-acre to more than one acre.”

Mr. Joseph says that no-till farming has changed his life—he is no longer worried about food shortages. He plans to find a big farm where he can not only grow enough food to feed his family with conservation agriculture but also embark on a commercial project.

This work was created with the support of Canadian Foodgrains Bank as part of the project, “Conservation Agriculture for building resilience, a climate smart agriculture approach.” This work is funded by the Government of Canada, through Global Affairs Canada, www.international.gc.ca.

Photo: Samwel Elinuru with a piece of equipment for conservation agriculture