On a late April morning, Vincent Hugo looks at a dark sky, heavy with wet clouds. The rains have arrived particularly late this year. Normally, farmers in northern Tanzania expect the rains by the end of February. But over the last 5-10 years, they have appeared later and later. Because most farmers plant only after the rains begin, they hope there will be enough time for their crops to ripen before the cold season arrives.
This year, Mr. Hugo and the other 168 members of the UWAMALE Irrigators and Marketing Co-operative Society Limited planted rice early. Mr. Hugo points to the young plants, saying, “…this field was planted on the 29th of January, and that one on the 15th.” He has good access to water, and chose to plant a variety called wahiwahi, which means “hurryhurry.” As a result, his rice grains are already milky in their husks. This early-maturing variety is suitable for the short rainy season. Mr. Hugo smiles. He knows he is well on his way to producing a bumper crop.
UWAMALE started in Lekitatu, near Arusha in northern Tanzania. When it began in 1997, there were 15 members. It was registered as a co-operative a year later. UWAMALE’s farmer-members work together to maintain, rehabilitate and expand the local irrigation system. Five irrigation canals carry water from the Usa River to 600 hectares of land planted with paddy rice, maize, and beans, plus fruit and vegetables. Funded through grants from local and central government, this farmer-driven irrigation project is widely respected as the most successful in Tanzania. It allows farmers to plant ahead of the rains, and stay ahead of the game. Farmers harvest up to six tonnes of rice per hectare twice a year. Before the irrigation system, yields of one or two tonnes per hectare were common.
Since joining the co-operative, Mr. Hugo has increased his rice planting from half a hectare to over three and a half. He has moved his family from a one-room, stick-and-mud shack to a new brick house, from which he runs a small store that sells soap, oil and basic household goods. He can afford to pay for hired labour when planting and harvesting, and rents out his new power-tiller to other members of the co-operative.
Though the co-operative has been successful, it faces some challenges. Production costs are rising, and the farmers know they need good pest management to keep white fly pests down and yields up. They get little support from the government and find it hard to make their voices heard. Mr. Humphrey Msoya is chairperson of UWAMALE. He notes, “There are several irrigation schemes in the country. It would be beneficial if an association could be organized to present a unified message to the politicians.”
The co-operative is waiting for the Tanzanian government to release Japanese aid funds for construction of a grain store. This would allow members to sell throughout the year, rather than marketing all their produce at harvest time. In addition, they want access to credit against future sales. Because no financial institution is currently willing to give them loans, members want to establish a local Savings and Credit Co-operative.
Farmers such as Mr. Hugo and Mr. Msoya have increased their yields through choosing varieties carefully and maintaining the irrigation system. Their lives have been improved through their hard work and their investment in distributing the most precious of resources: water.