MAIZE and legume intercropping is the preferred farming system in Tanzania covering a huge chunk of agricultural land.
Despite its importance to the country’s food security and smallholder livelihoods, unsustainable practices are holding back the sector. Researchers had to identify the problem and later look for a solution, and were successful in that.
Dr John Sariah is the Coordinator of Sustainable Intensification of Maize and Legume Systems for Food Security in Eastern and Southern Africa (SIMLESA), Project under the Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute (TARI). He says that among the major causes of low productivity are drought and low soil fertility.
“Drought, for example, causes major yield losses estimated at 246,820 tons per year. Soil erosion, caused by intensive farming leads to soil losses estimated to vary from 72 tons to 120 tons per hectare per year in the Usambara Mountains.
Soil losses of 28 to 72 tons per hectare annually have been observed in the arable lands on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro,” says Dr Sariah.
He says that traditional farming practices have led to an annual loss of fertile soil by 25 percent leading to low crop yields and siltation of water bodies, some of which are drying up or threatening to completely disappear. Some key facts are that rainfall variability, erratic weather and soil erosion are the main causes of poor harvests.
Under SIMLESA, a range of public-private institutional innovations were employed with success; reaching over 50,350 farmers with conservation farming practices.
Dr Sariah says that due to those problems leading to low yield, a paradigm shift towards Conservation Agriculturebased Sustainable Intensification (CASI), is needed to maintain and improve crop yields as climate change worsens.
“This involves promoting practices that emphasize minimizing tillage, crop rotations and intercrops as well as maintaining soil cover using crop residues.
The SIMLESA Project pioneered adaptive and farmer centric research on basket of CASI practices and technologies from which farmers choose.
“Based on their socioeconomic and agro ecological context, the CASI basket included optimal combinations of minimum soil disturbance through direct seeding, use of rip lines, herbicides, intercropping of maize and legumes and soil cover,” says the agricultural expert.
Research undertaken over the last eight years indicates several benefits for farmers who have utilized any or all the combinations of the basket. Adoption of CASI increases resilience to climate change effects.
CASI technologies and practices improve the soil organic matter content and in turn the soil’s moisture retention capacity.
“This leads to higher maize and legume yields even under drought conditions.
In 2011, which was a drought year, fields using CASI performed better implying the potential for CASI to lower the risk of yield loss during adverse weather,” says Dr Sariah. He discloses yields increase several-fold when farmers adopt CASI practices.
Farmer field level results from eight cropping seasons over a fouryear period indicate a substantial increase in yields for farmers who adopt CASI compared to two other farming practices, to wit, conventional and traditional farming.
Yields increased from 0.38 tons per hectare for pigeon pea and from 1.2 to 4.5 tons per hectare for maize for farmers practicing CASI compared to non CASI practice.
Dr Sariah points out to the fact that productive agricultural technologies are available, but limited use is costing food security. He says that the research system in Tanzania has made a range of modern techniques available to farmers.
He says that the most critical issue appears to be that the technology delivery mechanisms are not adequate to move even the existing number of technologies to farmers.
The Deputy Minister for Agriculture, Mr Innocent Bashungwa approves the use of CASI and wants its modalities be put in place so that it is streamlined all over the country, instead of only few farmers.
The technology comes aboard after years of research that was supported by the Australian Government under Australia Centre for International Agricultural Research that was geared towards answering a question as per why there is a danger of food insecurity while productive agricultural technologies are available.
Minister Bashungwa wants TARI, Agricultural Seed Agency (ASA), and his ministry’s Crop Development Division to forthwith embark on strategizing ways to roll out the technology from few growers who were involved as a pilot, so that all small farmers in the country embrace it as soon as practicable.
“CASI technology is officially launched and from now it should be used countrywide,” says Mr Bashungwa, adding that the Government is sure CASI will bring huge change in the agricultural sector as even if farmers use the same pieces of land, would be sure of doubling the yield, but with decreased time and hard work on field, as the technology makes use of simple machines such as power tiller or those pulled by cattle.
He says the technology involves storage of moisture, meaning good yields even during drought seasons, and it will as well strive to ensure markets of surplus harvests is available so that farmers’ lives change for the better.
He orders that research findings be available in Kiswahili for the sake of farmers, even if are written in English for development partners.
TARI Director General, Dr Geofrey Mkamilo says his organization is ready start streamlining the technology throughout the country as they have in place the right people and technology.
Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee for Agriculture, Livestock and Water, Mr Mahmoud Mgimwa lauds TARI and partners for the findings, saying it is the right way toward attaining the industrialisation dream, asking stakeholders to send the technology to the parliament as they would be sure of reaching every constituency. In 2015, Tanzania joined the other SIMLESA participating countries in a high level policy forum on CASI.
The meeting culminated in in a joint declaration in which countries committed to providing an enabling environment for CASI implementation.
CASI has already been mainstreamed in the national agricultural investment plans of Malawi and Rwanda. It forms a core part of Kenya’s climate-smart agriculture strategy.
It was Dr Sariah’s earlier prayer that it is imperative that CASI is mainstreamed as a core program in the Tanzania National Agricultural Investment Plan and related national planning and budget instruments in the sector.