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Tanzania: Improved seeds increase soya bean harvest in spite of drought

The dry conditions have persisted for months, but a rainy weekend has Braunesi Chegula singing praises.

The 44-year-old grain farmer lives in Wanging’ombe, a village in Tanzania’s Njombe Region, in the country’s Southern Highlands . Ms. Chegula and other farmers in the area had never experienced such a long drought. She was worried about her one-and-half acre field.

With a big smile on her face, she sits on a stool with a large plastic bag of soya beans nearby. Using a plastic container, she scoops up about one kilogram of soya beans and pours them into an empty platter lying on the table beside her.

She says, “The clouds have delivered the so-much-needed rains. I must get everything ready for planting on Monday.”

Soya beans have changed the lives of many farmers in this area. They are becoming a lucrative commercial crop for many in the cool and hilly terrain of the Southern Highlands. They improve soil fertility, help increase income, and provide a source of protein for people and domestic animals.

The poor rains threatened her harvest, but Ms. Chegula is confident because she is using improved seeds. She says, “The seeds have proven drought-resistance and can grow faster, yet give more yield.”

The new soya bean variety is produced at the Uyole Agricultural Research Institute, 160 kilometres from the village, and is available in Makambako, the nearest town. The seeds cost between 2,000 and 3,000 Tanzanian shillings ($0.88 to $ 1.31 US) per kilogram.

Ms. Chegula says that, despite the late rains, she will plant only soya beans on her one-and-half-acre field. She expects to harvest 200,000 kilograms of soya beans, with the support of farming information provided over the radio.

She explains: “I started planting just a kilogram, and I harvested 30 kilograms. During that time, I did not use either pesticides or fertilizers. Now I have fertilizer and pesticides … which I will mix before planting the seeds.… Otherwise, I will not get what I want.”

Pests have not been a problem for Ms. Chegula. In contrast, Dani Lungo says pests have been a big challenge in his 40 years of farming. Mr. Lungo is a small-scale farmer in Utiga village, also in Njombe Region.

He says the market for soya beans is great. He explains, ” I am getting soya bean orders from Iringa, Mbeya, and Morogoro [regions]…. I am yet to explore more markets in either Dar es Salaam or abroad, but I also sell to other businessmen and generate income.”

Mr. Lungo has eight dependents, including five children and three adopted orphans, all of whom attend school. He feeds his family and pays school fees with his profits from farming.

But drought, the high price of soya bean seeds, pests, and contradictory information from extension officers has created some challenges.

Mr. Lungo explains that some extension officers maintain that industrial fertilizers have negative effects on both the soil and humans. They recommend using fertilizers made from animal waste. But other extension officers disagree, noting that synthetic fertilizers can be highly effective. Mr. Lungo says, “This is the typical confusion for farmers.”

Deo Msemwa is the operation manager at Farm Inputs Promotion Services Africa, an organization that provides training to village-based farming advisers. He says the new and improved soya beans will help farmers overcome challenges such as disease and drought, as they are more tolerant to these challenges.

Mr. Lungo adds that while he expects more pests because of the little rain, “With the improved seeds and availability of pesticides, I am optimistic of a good harvest.”

This work was carried out with the aid of a grant from the International Development Research Centre, Ottawa, Canada, www.idrc.ca [1], and with financial support from the Government of Canada, provided through Global Affairs Canada, www.international.gc.ca [2]