Ethiopia: Crop rotation, intercropping, and mulching help farmers improve soil fertility and productivity
It’s a bright, sunny day at Martin Sawema’s farm in northern Tanzania. Mr. Sawema is 31 years old. He has a university degree and a job as Mwanza town’s information officer. He also grows millet and sesame in Rorya District.
Like all farmers, Mr. Sawema faces various obstacles. He explains, “Lack of rain and fertilizer, and not having a generator to pump water for irrigation affects my yields.”
To find help, Mr. Sawema and a few other farmers in his area formed a group called Kilimo Ni Pesa (“Farming is money”). Extension officers in Tanzanian wards and villages aren’t always available, and in some cases farmers have to pay for private services or go without. But when farmers create groups, government extension officers are more likely to travel to see them and provide advice and training.
Mr. Sawema was curious about conservation agriculture but wasn’t sure where to start. But after learning about the approach through Kilimo Ni Pesa, he stopped burning his crop residues and started rotating his crops.
Mr. Dominick Ndentabura is an extension officer in Rorya District. He says when farmers form groups, it is faster and easier for him to provide training and other extension services.
Richard Nguvava is a director of Mtandao wa Wakulima Nyancha (Nyancha Farmers’ Network) or MVIWANYA, which functions as a co-operative and includes several smaller groups, including Kilimo Ni Pesa. He says that before farmers formed groups, it was difficult for them to get advice from agricultural experts.
Mr. Nguvava adds: “Farmer groups are very important because, through these groups, farmers exchange information about modern farming practices [and] market information, and they become innovative farmers. For example, [some groups] have started conservation agriculture to preserve the land.”
He says that conservation agriculture helps to preserve soil health by improving soil structure and protecting against erosion and nutrient loss. Two ways farmers can do this with conversation agriculture are by keeping the soil permanently covered and minimizing soil disturbance. These practices increase organic matter and nutrients in the soil.
Some farmers, such as Mr. Sawema, use the previous season’s crop residues as a surface mulch rather than burning them. Or they grow green manure or cover crops. This makes the soil more productive for longer periods of time.
Witness Elias is a mother of three who lives in Bukama village in Rorya District. She is a member of Tuinuane (“Let’s help each other”), a farmers’ group where she shares and receives information about farming techniques, including conservation agriculture.
Mrs. Elias has benefitted from practicing the conservation agriculture methods she learned through her farmer group. She explains, “I have seen a lot of progress. I now pay for [my children’s] secondary education and I am planning to build a modern house.”
She says the health of her soil improved after she started using conservation agriculture methods. In the past, she burned her crop residues and planted the same crops in the same field year after year. After learning about conservation agriculture through her farmer group, she started rotating her crops and using crop residues as mulch.
This has increased her yields. She says: “Before … I got only three sacks of maize … but now I am proud that my harvest has increased to up to ten to 15 sacks of maize per acre.”
Mrs. Elias says it’s cheaper for her to learn farming techniques from extension officers through her farming group than if she had to pay a private agent.
For Mr. Sawema, working with other farmers in a group has helped him increase his harvest. He used the extra income to finish his mother’s house. He no longer depends entirely on his monthly salary to support his family.
Last year, he harvested 10 bags of millet and five bags of sesame. He earned 1,500,000 Tanzania shillings (about US$650). To cope with the poor rains, he plans to buy a generator to help irrigate his field.
Mr. Sawema says he loves farming and is grateful that his dream of owning a farm has come true.
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.
Martin Sawema in Rorya, Tanzania