Tanzania: Women farmers find solutions to heavy workload in conservation agriculture

March 26, 2018
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It’s the rainy season, and farmers are in a rush to prepare their fields. Ester Kitojo and other small-scale women farmers walk through the community every morning with their farming tools hanging around their necks and over their shoulders.

Many of these women use conservation agriculture techniques such as minimal soil disturbance, crop rotation, and maintaining soil cover with mulch or living plants throughout the year.

Mrs. Kitojo lives in Mchemwa village near Dodoma, the capital city of Tanzania. She says that, since she started using these techniques, her yields have increased. But she adds that some women in the area who practice conservation agriculture need help the first year to prepare their land for planting.

Mrs. Kitojo explains: “Our problem here as women farmers is labour. I am practicing conservation agriculture, but to be honest, it is time-consuming, especially if you don’t have access to tools such as a Magoye ripper or a tractor.”

In conservation agriculture, small-scale farmers often dig planting basins. These basins take time to complete, though they can be used year after year.

Mrs. Kitojo adds: “Our children, who are supposed to assist in farm work, also go to school. Farm work is difficult when you don’t have money to hire [people] in the village to help.”

To deal with the labour shortage, Mrs. Kitojo and other women farmers could use oxen. She explains, “Our conservation agriculture specialists advised us on land preparation equipment to be used … in order to get good yields.”

But Mrs. Kitojo and the other farmers do not have the kinds of equipment to help them do a lot of work in a short time. She says, “We used to have oxen that helped the village when we used the Magoye ripper, but the owner decided to sell them, and we have all gone back to using hand hoes.”

Recently, the village acquired new oxen. But some women farmers can’t afford to pay for them.

Jemima Josephat also practices conservation agriculture in Mchemwa village.

Mrs. Josephat says: “A Magoye ripper was freely donated to the village, and farmers pay a fee to use it. They pay for the oxen and the man or woman holding them. It costs 17,000 Tanzanian shillings [US$7.50] per acre to hire a Magoye ripper that takes less than 30 minutes to rip an acre.”

She adds: “If you have cash, there is no problem getting your fields worked on … but as smallholder women farmers, we struggle to raise money for family needs, food, and even to buy seeds.”

Mrs. Josephat adds that, although some women are willing to pay for farm equipment, they can’t always find someone to operate it. In the past, trained men used to help women prepare the land. But now they work elsewhere, because they found that working as Magoye ripper operators does not pay as well as other jobs.

As a solution, Mrs. Kitojo says young women are learning to operate the Magoye ripper. She explains: “We’re doing this because having men available for labour is becoming more unreliable, and so we will have women who can operate these kinds of equipment. We’re also doing this because we women want to be involved in this work.”

Mrs. Kitojo learned about conservation agriculture from the Diocese of Central Tanganyika. She explains the steps to prepare land for planting: “You use two sticks to mark the end points of the farm. You take the rope and stretch it tight from the first stick to the other. This procedure gives you clear and straight rows. Next, you use the hand hoe to till small planting basins in line with the rope.”

Mrs. Josephat explains how she uses different tools: “We use the tape measure to get the right spacing between the basins. We tie a knot in the rope at every 20 centimetres. We also separate each row by the correct distance.”

Mrs. Josephat further explains that, after preparing planting basins and rows, she arranges dried stalks between the rows to act as mulch, then plants sorghum in the basins and covers the seed with loose soil.

Despite the labour challenges in conservation agriculture, Mrs. Kitojo is known in her community as a strong farmer who gets very high yields. She says: “Although I have been farming traditionally for many years, shortly after I started practicing conservation agriculture with sorghum, I noticed a huge change in my yields.”

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: Ester Kitojo in her field.