Digitization & Farming: How SAT is changing livelihoods

We are living in a digital age. The internet has become a key part of our lives; it determines how we interact with one another, how we do business and how we plan our lives among many other things. The key for any business in this environment, is to leverage these new technologies to our benefit and to the benefit of our stakeholders.

A farmer making use of her phone to access key market information.

At Sustainable Agriculture Tanzania our vision is for the majority of farmers to use acknowledged agroecological farming methods to improve their livelihoods, conserve the environment and reduce pressure on natural resources. To reach this goal effectively, digitization must be a key element in our approach.

Digitization at SAT largely depends on the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) component established at SAT. The SAT ICT component is a component introduced by SAT to solve the problems that face smallholder farmers such as lack of markets, lack of information, lack of timely support and assistance in problem solving. SAT ICT employs various tools to ensure that farmers focus more on production which will ultimately lead to an increase their profits.

Farmers always need to make key decisions such as what to grow, how to grow, when to grow, where to sell, what quality is required, when to sell, what price to charge etc… Strengthening our smallholder farmers’ access to timely and accurate information  improves their productivity as well their bargaining power and understanding of marketing functions which improves farmers’ market share.

A snapshot from the Machosauti application

The tools used by SAT ICT include mobile applications and services that help us, help farmers. The first stage involved in the digitization process is training our farmers on how to use smartphones and applications that are essential in information sharing. Some of the mobile applications used include WhatsApp and Machosauti. How did you learn how to use a smartphone? Let me guess, you played around? That is exactly the way we train our farmers through engaging them in interactive games where they use WhatsApp and other software to solve problems, such as finding the best prices or the best solution for a farming problem.

WhatsApp is a mobile application which is used for general communication purposes and media. Media such as text, pictures, audio, and videos can all be shared using this platform through the internet. First, we wanted all our farmers to share their challenges. That almost did not happen. Instead farmers started by sharing their successes, which, turned out to be a positive in itself, as it motivated other farmers to copy their ecological farming methods. However, there are still some burning questions out in the field. 

Machosauti is another mobile application developed by Dr. Eugenio Tiselli and financed by SWISSAID in Tanzania. It involves media exchange in the form of text, audio and pictures as well as a webpage interface for interaction between users of the application. Here farmers are invited to upload challenges which later will be responded to by other farmers and technical experts from SAT. The benefit of this app is that farmers can later access all the solutions since they are saved for long-term use. This is its benefit when compared to WhatsApp.

However, for quick knowledge exchange WhatsApp is still the unbeatable favorite for small scale farmers. An example of one group managed on this app is ‘’Wakulima Kilimo Hai’’ (in English the “Organic Farmers”). This WhatsApp group includes 43 farmer groups, seven marketing scouts, and a plenty of SAT facilitators who act as technical consultants. In total, we have 93 farmer groups on WhatsApp, reaching, at present, more than 2740 farmers.

Apart from learning the best organic farming methods, farmers are also longing for marketing information. Currently we have market scouts from seven different markets named Tawa, Mkuyuni, Kinole, Mwazo Mgumu, Mjini, Kariakoo and Kiroka. They are responsible for collecting market information on price variation for different products (spices, vegetables, fruits, pulses, and cereal products) on a weekly basis. Market scouts are provided with smart phones, enabling them to collect market information and share it with farmer groups. We at SAT wanted to ensure that prices for up to 40 products are efficiently shared from several markets, the first option was to do so through an app. Due to high costs, however, we decided to use an alternative way which is a mix of analog and digital components building on the existing software; WhatsApp.

The approach is simple but effective; market scouts use a printed template which they fill out on the market day with all the respective prices. From the piece of paper, a picture is made, and this is the point where analog turns digital. The information is then shared on the WhatsApp where it can be accessed by hundreds of farmers. Farmers immediately see the current prices and can call the market scout to ensure there is demand for their products.  SAT collects the data and builds a database of years’ worth of information which helps to advise farmers as best as possible. Our experience has shown that prices can fluctuate highly between markets. Therefore, sometimes incurring a higher transport cost can lead to much more profit through selling it at a more profitable market. We, at SAT, are committed to improving and expanding by adding more market scouts to the Dar salaam and Dodoma markets.

Financial services is another key element of our SAT ICT component. Smallholder farmers are a major part of the population in Tanzania as it relates to the agricultural sector. Unfortunately, they are usually excluded from formal financial services. Digital financial services via mobile money technology represent an opportunity to enable financial inclusion among this group.

One avenue for facilitating this is to digitize the agriculture value chains that some smallholder farmers are a part of. This provides a secure movement of the cash the farmers are paid through mobile money services. This ensures their security as well as preventing the need for farmers to move from their localities to receive payments. This system is faster, easier, cheaper, and more secure than the conventional system where they needed to move, incurring more costs in the process. Currently mobile money is used as the payment method for farmers who are producing various products. Briefly summarized this is all revolutionary technology which allows coops and farmer groups to work on a highly transparent level which is key to success.

With all these initiatives it is necessary to know where we stand. We measure our impact through collecting data with using the online app KoboToolBox. By using this technology, we have all information on the “cloud” ready to be analyzed with our statistical software.

As technologies and digitization continues to grow and shape our world. We will look to grow with it, prioritizing our farmers and their needs, leading us all to a future with is not only digital but also 100% organic.

SAT: Impacting the Organic Movement Worldwide

Mexico, Denmark, Scotland, Germany, India, Israel and Tanzania. What do those countries have in common? The answer is not obvious and does take some digging. Or in this case farming.

All the above-mentioned countries have organizations or people who are finalists in the One World Award (OWA). The OWA is the most prestigious international accolade from the Organic movement. It centers on rewarding innovative activities in ecological, social and economic sustainability.

Sustainable Agriculture Tanzania (SAT) our humble but rapidly growing, organic movement situated in the warm heart of Africa, holds the continents flag high as one of the seven finalists.

The grand prize? Money, recognition and the chance to take home, Mother Nature, or in this case, “Lady Obert”, a bold statue which features the earth on top of a figure of a woman. A striking image which will be awarded to the most daring and most dynamic organization which promotes sustainability. A description which was tailormade for SAT.

We, SAT are a non-governmental organization in Tanzania founded in 2009 headquartered in Morogoro. Our mission? Ensuring the majority of farmers are using acknowledged agro-ecological methods to improve their livelihoods. Which will aid in conservation of our environment and ultimately reduce pressure on natural resources.

Bernward Geier, OWA coordinator and chairman of the OWA jury, came to Tanzania for a three day visit as part of the selection process. He spent his three days touring our various facilities, meeting our employees and of course meeting the most important people of all; Our Farmers.

As part of his visit Bernward, gave the SAT staff a lecture about what the award means and delivered a call to action. A call to dream big about a 100% organic future for everyone.

“How many of you think Tanzania will be 100% organic by 2050?”, he asked. A tough question, with which some were hesitant to commit too. His response to his own question was damning yet inspiring. Warning us that we, and the world do not have that much time, at best we must execute change within 10 years. A challenge which we all rose to and accepted with roaring cries of “Kilimo Hai!”

By the end of his three day visit we had showed him our farming techniques, shared our dreams, practiced our culture together and taught him our dance moves. Every step of the way Bernward, and Daniel (his cameraman), joined in on our fun and our lessons, while sharing many of their own. While we wished them a heartfelt goodbye, we are consoled by the idea that we will reunite on a stage in February 2021 to collect and to protect “Lady Obert”.

You can learn about our farming practices by registering for our Farming Training Courses. Click here for further details.

Participatory Research Design: Bringing farmers and young scientists together

A lecture hall at Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA) full of young scientists developing ideas for their Bachelor and Master thesis. So far it would be nothing special if it weren´t for a few rather unusual guests: farmers and pastoralists of the Morogoro region. Each year the Workshop for Participatory Research Design connects farmers or pastoralists with young researchers and thus initiates a new cycle of the Farmer Centred Research Programme (FCRP), which emerged a few years ago from the close collaboration of SAT and SUA. Farmers and pastoralists present their current challenges and offer their local knowledge. From there students use their research skills to find solutions for their challenges together with the farmers.

Farmer speaking at Workshop for Participatory Research Design
Shakaile Kolea, a pastoralist from Mkajuni village, speaks about challenges at the Workshop for Participatory Research Design.

The problem of the fall army worms

Martha Makumba, a young woman, is one among eleven bachelor students from SUA who received a grant through the FCRP in 2018/2019 to conduct her research. After farmers expressed their problem of fall army worms being a big obstacle to their productivity in the 5th Workshop for Participatory Research Design, she decided to look further into that issue. Her research had the overall goal to assess the resistance of local maize seed varieties to the invasion of fall army worms and the use of environmentally friendly pesticides as control mechanisms. During the following weeks she observed that the improved seed variety called “Tumbili” performed better compared to farmer managed seeds and that neem powder worked better as an organic pesticide than moringa. Although Martha Makumba recommended to use improved seed varieties one farmer decided to extend the research.

Farmers contribute to research findings

Mwombeck Cleophace is a member of the Tushikamane group in Kimambila village which was formed in 2017 in the course of the Farmers and Pastoralists Collaboration Project. He is also one of the Farmer to Farmer facilitators who pass on their knowledge to other farmers. Mwombeck Cleophace decided to extend the research in his village by visiting ten farms with improved seeds and ten farms with farmer managed seeds. Contrarily to Martha Makumba, he observed that improved seeds were much more affected by fall army worms compared to farmer managed seeds.

And the research goes on…

To us, we can draw two conclusions from this: First, it shows us how engaged and motivated our farmers are beyond our project activities. They can see that this research helps them to create a sustainable and well working agricultural system at their farms. Secondly, it also shows that different research analysis can provide different results. Another sign that we need to invest more time into long-term research to better understand the specifics of the seeds and their resilience towards the fall army worm.

Maize (improved seeds variety) severly affected by fall army worms
Improved seeds variety affected by fall army worm
Maize (farmer managed seeds) not affected by fall army worms
Farmer managed seeds

Everything about pest management using organic methods you can also learn at the SAT Farmer Training Center. The courses of 2020 are online now.

The Farmer Centred Research Programme in collaboration with the Sokoine University of Agriculture is kindly supported by Liechtenstein Development Service. Numerous other organisations finance the grants for the students.

Logo of Liechtenstein Development Service

Joint Efforts to Redress the Challenges in Drylands

From 27th February to 1st March 2020, Sustainable Agriculture Tanzania (SAT) hosted as part of the Farmers & Pastoralists Collaboration project a workshop on agroforestry systems in dryland areas. Through field visits, presentations on research, discussions, and group work, the participants were able to identify the main challenges dryland inhabitants are facing and suggest systemic solutions. Farmers, pastoralists, researchers, students, and facilitators jointly developed four agroforestry systems. These promising combinations of technologies are now being tested and optimised.

visiting permaculture farm in drylands
Julia Samson, a pastoralist, exchanges knowledge with the owner of the permaculture farm, Mercy Meena. The field visits conducted during this workshop provided a learning experience for everybody.

Learn more about SAT’s work and vision

“I understand: there is not a single thing in nature that does not have its value for a farm”, summarises Julia Samson, a pastoralist woman. She refers to the remarkable variety of technologies the group of roughly 20 people just admired on Mercy Meena’s permaculture dryland farm. The lush vegetable beds and crop fields around the house sharply contrast with the arid environment. All this becomes possible if only one cleverly combines various plant species and actively cares about soil and water management.

This farm visit is part of a four-day workshop on agroforestry in the course of the Farmers & Pastoralists Collaboration project. SAT invited pastoralists, farmers, soil and agroforestry scientists, students, and some of its staff members. The goal of the workshop is to outline agroforestry systems with appropriate technologies to redress the challenges faced by people living in the drylands. These systems shall be implemented, tested, researched and refined on the premises of the SAT Farmer Training Centre. Simultaneously, interested farmers and pastoralists will do their trials. Thus, they’ll contribute to the further refinement of the chosen agroforestry systems.

represantants of SUA and ICRAF discussing with farmer Mercy Meena
Soil and agroforestry scientists from ICRAF and SUA (from the right: Dr Anthony Kimaro, Dr Boniface Massawe and Dr Mawazo Shitindi) discuss opportunities with Mercy Meena on how to further improve her farm design through agroforestry.

Agroforestry is a broad term. It refers to a combined land-use system that, in any case, is based on woody perennial plants like trees and shrubs and combined with at least one more component like crops or animals. The aim is to select beneficiary combinations of species to ensure food security, nutritional balance and economic dynamism. Chosen wisely, trees, crops, and livestock maintain the material cycles, create desirable agroclimatic conditions, and diversify the producer’s source of income. At best, the planned biodiversity increases the general biodiversity on the farmlands and in the surroundings.

However, the vast amount of species leads to an incredible number of possibilities to join them. To narrow this down, one needs to answer a set of questions: What’s the purpose the system should serve? What are the challenges the producers are facing? Which are the species that withstand the given conditions? What characteristics do they have?

The participatory and interdisciplinary approach of this workshop fostered a lively exchange concerning these questions. Even more so, because the participants had very diverse backgrounds. Scientists of World Agroforestry (ICRAF) and Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA) presented the latest relevant findings and clarified the underlying concepts. Farmers and pastoralists, for their part, contributed local knowledge on tree species, insight in their challenges, and critical feedback on feasibility. SAT, finally, provided the holistic agroecological perspective.

In his presentation Agroforestry Research and Development in Tanzania, Dr Anthony Kimaro (ICRAF) explains the processes by which trees improve soil productivity. On the one hand, they increase the inputs of nutrients and organic matter, but also raise the nutrient availability for crops, and reduce the losses of soil. On the other hand, trees may improve the physical and biological soil properties and thereby enhance the moisture content. He then gives an overview of how agroforestry is implemented in Tanzania.

The background shows an agroforestry research plot run by a partner farmer of ICRAF in Mlali village. Comparing the two maize fields in the front and in the back, one can clearly see the beneficial effects of agroforestry systems.

At the end of this presentation, Julia Samson shows her wit again: “There are really no questions from my part, but I congratulate you. What I saw were all well-known trees from our environment. If we start planting them, our cattle will gain weight; you won’t believe that.” Julia, a pastoralist who practises pasture management, quickly grasped the prospect of agroforestry. Many agroforestry systems have the potential, indeed, to fight the lack of fodder in the drylands.

During the workshop, Prof. Luther Lulandala from the Department of Ecosystems and Conservation at SUA repeatedly emphasises: “Identify the challenges you want to overcome, and you will find a suitable agroforestry system for the aims you pursue.” The difficulties in the drylands are manifold and very often interconnected. Through group work, the participants pinned down the most challenging issues. There is a shortage of firewood and water, the careless cutting of trees aggravates the loss of arable land, which, in turn, increases land-use conflicts. Food and fodder insecurity affect people and livestock. Both animals and crops frequently get infested by pests. There are little opportunities for economic activities and development.

However, there are good chances that a systemic approach like agroforestry positively affects this complex situation. The workshop participants developed four promising designs that now need to prove their efficacy and feasibility.

Learn about organic agriculture at our Farmer Training Centre

During the field visit on the fourth day of the event, many benefits of agroforestry already became clear. Dryland farmers who are part of current and completed research projects of ICRAF guided the visitors through their farms, tree nurseries and animal pens. What they showed is encouraging: Their maize is strong and healthy, their animals are well-fed, and the woodpiles were abundant in cut branches of gliricidia trees. This cooking fuel is a renewable product of their agroforestry system.

This workshop on agroforestry in drylands as part of the Farmers & Pastoralists Collaboration project was kindly supported by Biovision Foundation for Ecological Development and made possible through the collaboration of World Agroforestry (ICRAF) and Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA).