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It’s eight o’clock in the morning. Yohana Lyapa is just arriving at his rice field with a hoe in his hands. The 47-year-old farmer wears a red shirt and turns his dark blue trousers up to his knees to avoid mud while planting rice.
Mr. Lyapa levels his field with the hand hoe before planting the rice. He says: “We make sure the land is levelled and cleaned before we move to the next [planting] activity…. In 2015, I was among the farmers that were selected in our village to be trained on how to grow rice.”
Mr. Lyapa lives in Ifumbo village, in the Chunya district of Mbeya region, in Tanzania’s Southern Highlands. He walks about three kilometres from his house to reach the four-hectare-farm where he grows rice, maize, and sweet potatoes.
Mr. Lyapa is one of the 441 farmers in the Chunya rice irrigation scheme, a project that was established between 2005 and 2013 by the Chunya Municipal Council. He says that, before joining the scheme, he couldn’t make any income from rice farming because he was only able to harvest one bag of rice from one hectare of land.
He says: “We were trained how to grow rice following the calendar and [to] plant rice plants with the recommended spacing of 20 centimetres between lines and 20 centimetres from one plant to another.”
Mr. Lyapa adds: “For the first time, [by] planting following recommended practices, I harvested 35 bags of rice from one hectare. I sold one bag for 60,000 Tanzania shillings ($26 US) and all 35 bags for 2,100,000 Tanzania shillings ($903 US).”
Many farmers in the area grow rice, and those who grow rice as well as other crops devote much of their land to rice. But according to Mr. Lyapa, farmers in the scheme are earning less than they could because they don’t have the equipment to thresh rice. As a result, they sell their rice to middlemen for low prices.
He says: “Other farmers are trying to thresh rice using machines designed to thresh maize. This method is not very effective…. To get a good machine to thresh rice, we travel 95 kilometres from our village to Mbeya town.… We have to travel there again with our rice to sell it.”
Bahati Edison Sinkwembe is also part of the Chunya rice scheme. He says vendors offer them low prices because the farmers have transport problems that prevent them from accessing better markets.
Mr. Sinkwembe adds: “Getting produce to the market is difficult. Roads in Ifumbo are very poor and there are very few means of transport. Sometimes we are forced to use motorbikes or bicycles to transport rice.… It takes about three hours to reach the market.”
When the farmers can’t find buyers who are looking for large quantities, Mr. Sinkwembe says they are forced to go house-to-house to find smaller buyers.
Patrick Mpemba is the government extension officer in Chunya district. He says that, even though farmers in the scheme lack good markets, they train them how to grow rice because it gives farmers more income than maize.
Despite the challenges, farmers in the Chunya rice scheme are thriving. Mr. Sinkwembe bought a motorcycle, put his four kids in school, and built a brick house with income from rice farming.
As for Mr. Lyapa, who dropped school in standard seven and started farming, the income from rice has helped him to survive all these years. He says: “After [dropping] school, farming has been my employment I inherited from my parents. I bought a motorbike that helps me transport rice from the farm to my house and to the market.”