Nelly Bassily | August 11, 2014
Kuruthumu Amlima dreams of becoming a farmer like her parents. But the 14-year-old does not plan to farm exactly like them.
Ms. Amlima lives in the village of Liwale, about 200 kilometres west of Mtwara, a city just north of the Tanzanian border with Mozambique. Farmers in this area traditionally practice slash-and-burn agriculture. Although this practice temporarily boosts nutrients in the soil, over time it causes soil erosion and nutrient deficiencies. Farmers are eventually forced to find new farmland.
Ms. Amlima is learning the principles of conservation agriculture through a program at her primary school. The program emphasizes crop rotation, minimum tillage and continuous soil cover. These practices improve nutrient levels in the soil and prevent soil erosion, allowing farmers to use the same plot year after year. Ms. Amlima adds, “You get a bigger harvest from smaller land with conservation agriculture.”
Lindi and Mtwara Agribusiness Support, or LIMAS, is a Finnish development project which funds the trainings in 56 schools in the Liwale district. The project has been a success at Nalulelo Primary School, where Ms. Amlima studies. This year, the school grew and sold 1,200 kilograms of maize for a profit of 373,000 Tanzanian shillings (about $225 US).
Juma Chijinga is an agronomist at LIMAS. He says that profitability is a key aspect of conservation agriculture. He explains the farmer’s needs: “At the end of the day, they want increased production. They need increased income.”
But finding a balance between production and conservation can be challenging. While crop rotation is a key aspect of conservation agriculture, the Nalulelo School farm grew only maize this year. This is not as beneficial to long-term soil health as rotating crops.
But in the short term, it provided the school with a more immediate need – food. Mr. Chijinga says: “Their priority is food … they decided that this year they would plant maize, so that they [could provide] for the [students] who are expecting to write examinations this season.”
Some of the children’s parents are also interested in conservation principles. But Mr. Chijinga thinks real change will take time. He says: “These people are used to traditional agriculture … You can’t expect them to change overnight, but they can learn … [by] … seeing that there is some benefit.”
Ms. Amlima’s teacher, Rashidi Hamisi, thinks farmers in Liwale could benefit from adopting conservation agriculture, as slash-and-burn farming is often time-consuming. He says, “When they use conservation farm[ing], they have more time for other things and they get good production and crops.”
Older farmers might take more convincing. But Ms. Amlima is already sold on conservation agriculture. She plans to use it when she, someday, starts her own farm. Ms. Amlima says, “I like conservation because it’s good for the future.”