Tanzania: Farming practices change as weather changes

| December 19, 2016

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Johanna Simon pulls a red radio out of his jacket pocket, and stands watching two labourers lead cattle around his field. He is ploughing now so he can plant beans as soon as the rains start.

Mr. Simon has already ploughed one field, up in the hills outside the village of Kitumbeine. His farm is several kilometres from the village, and even further from the main tarmac road to Arusha, in northern Tanzania. The short rainy season is late and farmers are anxiously awaiting rain to plant.

Mr. Simon heard on the radio that there will be little rain this season. Farmers were advised to plant beans or quick-maturing maize to make the most of what precipitation does fall. He can’t get the maize seeds mentioned on the radio program, so he will plant beans.

Many farmers here in Longido district rely on the weather information broadcast on Orkonerei Radio Service to plan when they will seed their fields. When combined with agricultural information, the weather forecasts give farmers a better chance of getting a good yield even if the rains are poor.

Mr. Simon says the weather information is very useful. He knows farmers who will only plant after rain has fallen for a week. But if the rains are predicted to be meagre this season, he worries these farmers will suffer through drought. He will plant as soon as the rain starts.

Kastuli Ara is the extension officer in Kitumbeine. He is thankful for the ORS FM radio program because the weather forecasts—so far—have been very accurate. It can be difficult to predict the weather. But by airing reliable forecasts and solid agricultural advice, the program has increased the trust farmers and pastoralists have in extension services. Mr. Ara says that, since the program starting providing these services, he has received fewer questions and finds people more open to his advice.

The weather information and agricultural advice is changing the practices of many listeners. Loy Logolie Lengineji is anxiously waiting to purchase DK8053, a quick-maturing variety of maize. He had never heard of the variety before listening to the program on ORS FM, but is now convinced it will be useful. The forecast is for this region to get less rain than usual, and DK8053 matures in just four months.

The 59-year-old farms 12 acres in the hilly area outside the village of Kitumbeine. He grows maize and potatoes, but like many Maasai in this area, he also keeps some livestock.

Mr. Lengienji says he likes that the program teaches listeners—rather than simply providing information. The program is interactive, allowing listeners to ask questions and receive answers from extension agents. When Mr. Lengienji heard farmers’ questions on air, he felt they were relevant to his own situation. And when the questions were answered, he learned even more.

Switching to a new variety of maize is not the only change Mr. Lengienji has made. He also fenced off four acres of his land to grow pasture for his animals. He is keeping the animals off the land for now, but in August—a few months after the long rainy season—the animals will be able to enjoy the pasture.

For now, he is hoping his maize yield will improve as a result of the new seed. While he can usually harvest eighty 120-kilogram bags of maize, he has heard the new variety could more than double his yield.

So, with the rainy season expected to start soon, Mr. Lengineji is preparing his field for planting, and is holding out hope he will be able to purchase the new variety of maize in time.