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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
is my bike”, says Pendo Ndemo pointing at a bicycle that peers between a
group of Masai women. They have gathered in the shade of a veranda. Outside,
the light is dazzling. Now and then, a hot and dry breath of wind tells how
harsh it would be without the roof. “I use the bike to visit the members
of Tupendane group”, Pendo continues. She is a Pastoralist to Pastoralist
Facilitator, and therefore one of the crucial persons in multiplying the skills
she acquired before.
group, Nameloki (‘Good Luck’), started their training with SAT in 2017.
“Since then, we made a lot of progress. We have 30 crossbreed goats and
three cows that are offspring of our traditional sort and a beautiful Mpwapwa
bull.” These animals are more heavily built than the Masai’s customary
livestock but well adapted to the environment. “Of course, these cattle eat
a bit more. But thanks to our stock of hay, this is no problem anymore.”
What Pendo refers to here, is part of a fundamental change of habits. Traditionally, Masai would roam the savanna with their herds to search for grazeland and waterholes. Especially during the dry season, this involves wandering long distances. Through the Farmers and Pastoralists Collaboration (FPC) project, they learnt how to cultivate their pastures with nutritious grasses, and to bale hay for the following period. “Of course, we had our ways to relieve this problem a bit”, Pendo explains. “We fenced off suitable areas so that the fodder grasses would remain for tough times. Then, we would let our cows in for grazing. But these areas usually didn’t last for long.”
to that transformation, FPC also encourages pastoralists to grow crops. This
raises their awareness of how it is like when cows invade a crop field. It is a
goal of this project to reduce conflicts between farmers and pastoralists.
First impressions imply that it works well, evaluation is underway. There is no
doubt, though, that the Masai remarkably improved their variety of food through
however, water is the source of life. That is why SAT supported the
pastoralists with digging a reservoir big enough to quench the thirst of their
cattle. Nameloki’s watering-place lies amidst the labyrinth of bald trunks and
mostly naked branches in all shades of brown, yellow and ochre, characteristic
for the dry season. The pond is surrounded by the typical fencing of thorny
twigs and branches, which truely shows its efficiency if only one tries to open
it. When needed, a pump drives the water to the concrete trough.
“This is what we need too,” explains Nambeya Nyange, referring to her group’s plans. Tupendane group was founded in April 2019. “We were inspired by what happened in our neighbourhood,” Nambeya Nyange goes on. Asked about the progress, they have made during the first six months, the Tupendane women pick out two improvements. They never had as much milk before during this time of year. And they say that they engage more actively in trade. Through their saving and lending groups, FPC beneficiaries mutually grant loans that must be invested in business. “The men”, describes Theresia Makoretu, “use the credits to buy goats in the neighbourhood and to sell them with profit on the market. The women, on their part, buy wholesale products like soap in town and sell it retail to the villagers.”
Pendo Ndemo, who coaches the Tupendane members through her experience and her skills she picked up in the specialized training for trainers, leads the group to the tuition pasture. The untrained eye could barely make out this area except for the prickly branch fencing and the lower density of trees. Here, Johnson Mwakyusa, SAT facilitator, chips in. He suggests how the group should deal with this grassland that has not thriven as expected because of little rainfalls. “Let the cows in to graze here. This will fertilize the pasture and later encourage the nutritious grass species we sowed to grow faster. They prefer clear spaces.”
women in Mingo village, Johnson manoeuvres the motorcycle along the winding
paths tightly lined by the bare wood of this time of year. Farmers and
pastoralists engage in protecting this fascinating maze. They practice
agroforestry, which includes reforestation, and they learn how to produce
sustainable cooking fuel. Looking back, the houses in Mingo fade in the web of
twigs and branches. Soon, one believes to be miles away from settlements. And
indeed, without a vehicle, this place is very remote.
Tupendane and all the other 49 groups of FPC with their 1660 members stay
connected with each other and with SAT through a messenger platform on their
mobile phones. And before long we got back to Morogoro, there flies in a video
showing how Pendo Ndemo instructs the Tupendane group in compost making.
The FPC project is kindly supported by Biovision Foundation for Ecological Development, and LED Liechtenstein Development Service.