Nelly Bassily | May 13, 2013
(Editor’s note: Ugali is a stiff porridge-like food, made from maize flour, and popular in East Africa)
In recent years, drought has become a fact of life for Tanzanian farmers. The village of Misigiri is in the Iramba district of Singida Region, in Tanzania’s central plateau. This year, the worsening drought has pushed its farmers to the edge of disaster.
Data from the Tanzania Meteorological Agency show that Singida received 580 millimetres of rain last season, the lowest the region has ever recorded. During the recent long dry spell, maize, a staple food in the area, was particularly hard hit. Thousands of farmers will need food handouts until the next harvest.
Majaliwa Mrisho lost his entire maize crop to the drought, despite having access to a borehole. He says: “I am very shocked. This is a completely new phenomenon. The rain is usually enough to bring us good harvests, but that is not the case this season.”
He believes that farmers on Tanzania’s central plateau must adapt to changing weather patterns to survive.
Maize prices have doubled in the last year, and rice and beans have seen similar increases in central Tanzania. Many people now struggle to afford cereals.
The Agriculture, Food and Cooperatives Ministry says that over 16,000 households in Iramba are unable to feed themselves. Dr. Parseko Kone is the Singida regional commissioner. He says food distributions will fill the gap until the next harvest.
Local officials say they have been trying to persuade farmers to grow drought-tolerant crops. Farmers argue that the government should have made contingency plans.
Boniphace Temba is an official from the Singida regional government. He says: “We have tried our best to advise farmers to change their mindset and start growing resilient crops, but the response is not that good.”
Mwajuma Zakayo is a farmer from Misigiri. He says, “We did not cause this situation … we need assistance to support our families and keep hunger at bay.”
Some farmers admit they have failed to heed government calls to grow crops such as cassava, sorghum and millet to cushion their families from the threat of drought and hunger.
Most Tanzanian families prefer eating maize. Several farmers said that they did not want to grow and eat unfamiliar foods. Jaka Naligia is a 47-year- old farmer in Iramba. He says: “My children like ugali more than anything else because it gives them a lot of energy. How on earth can I give them ugali made of millet?”
Dr. Honest Prosper Ngowi is an economist and lecturer at Mzumbe University in Dar es Salaam. He says, “There are several varieties of drought–resistant maize which could be of great help to farmers in times of drought.” Last year, farmers in Makutupora village in Dodoma – also in the central plateau –increased yields by up to 50 per cent by using drought-resistant maize. Dr. Ngowi suggests that these varieties could be introduced more widely so that farmers don’t need to grow and eat unfamiliar crops.