Changing fortunes of farmers and empowering women in the Southern Highlands of Tanzania through legumes

20160311_163804While it is the number one cash crop for most farmers in Tanzania, maize is getting a serious run for its money from legumes such as beans, groundnut, and soybean which are becoming commercial crops in the cool and hilly terrain of the Southern Highlands. In addition, legumes are also good for tackling malnutrition and soil infertility as they are a cheap source of protein and are able to fix nitrogen from the air into the soils.

This turn of events is being fueled firstly by many years of collaboration between farmers and Tanzanian and international research institutions,  a range of development partners, and the private sector that has seen the development and dissemination of improved varieties and good agronomic practices enabling farmers to increase their legume yield by up to four times.

These include the government funded Uyole Agricultural Research Institute with technical backstopping from international research organizations such as the ), International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA),  International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-arid Tropics (ICRISAT)and Wageningen University; development NGOs such One Acre Fund and Farm Inputs Promotion Services (FIPS)  and support from the Tanzanian Government and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

And secondly, a ready market within and in the neighboring countries of Zambia, DR Congo, Malawi, and as far down as South Africa.

On a recent visit to the region, we met a number of farmers whose fortunes have greatly changed and their livelihoods improved as a result of growing legumes.

Daudi Bukuku – from borrowing soap to a respectable bean expert

Daudi Bukuku, accompanied by his wife explaining on the benefits he has reaped from cultivating beans
Daudi Bukuku, accompanied by his wife explaining the benefits he has reaped from cultivating beans

Daudi Bukuku, a charming 38-year-old farmer has seen his life turnaround from at one time not being able to afford to buy soap for his family to being able to purchase and install a biogas plant at his home reducing the drudgery and time spent by his wife looking for firewood. All thanks to beans.

“Before starting this improved farming of beans, I used to harvest 200 kg of beans from an acre. Life was hard and I was struggling to even buy soap for my family. However, everything changed when I was invited for a training at ARI Uyole on improved farming methods for  beans and also received new, improved varieties to try,” Daudi says.

“I learned proper spacing, proper use of fertilizers, and how to harvest and store my crop. I applied everything I had learned and now my yield is up to 700 to 800 kg per acre. My life is so much better as you can see. I have even managed to buy livestock. I have cows, pigs, and chickens. I have also been able to install a biogas plant that converts the waste from my livestock into gas for cooking. I am no longer destroying the environment for firewood. And my wife now respects me as I have made her life easy. She is not struggling with cooking. In twenty minutes, all the food is ready,” he said.

Daudi’s farm acts as a demonstration site to transfer the technologies and knowledge he has gained from the researchers to the surrounding farmers who are inspired with what they see and by the changes he has made in his life. He has also been trained in the production of Quality Declared Seeds and therefore sells seeds of various local and improved varieties to surrounding farmers.

Empowering women and improving marriages

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Witness Sikayange, chair lady of Upendo women’s group shows the bean plants in one of their farms

Upendo women’s group in Mchewe village in Mbeya rural district has also seen beans change their lives and their marriages for the better.

According to the chair of the group, Witness Sikayange, the women came together in 2010 to find ways to work together to improve their lives and those of their families through farming.

“We realized we can earn more money from beans compared to maize as we can harvest up to three times a year compared to once a year for maize. We then approached researchers and government extension workers for training on improved farming methods and for improved varieties. And after that, we started commercial farming of beans.

“We are now living a very comfortable life. We all have improved houses and are taking our children to school. And our marriages are even better. Before we used to have a lot of quarrels with our husbands but since we started making our own money, they now respect us as we are not just sitting begging for everything,” Witness said.

The group is also growing Quality Declared Seeds (QDS) for the various varieties of bean released from Uyole Agricultural Research Institute to sell to surrounding farmers and processing pre-cooked beans for sale.

Spreading the success

Women selling an assortment of beans on the roadside in Mbeya, southern Tanzania
Women selling an assortment of beans on the roadside in Mbeya, southern Tanzania

There are a number of ongoing research initiatives to build on to these successes to  spread the benefits of legumes to more farmers: .

Building capacity of research institutes to develop new legume varieties:  Efforts to provide farmers with better varieties are also continuing through the Tropical Legumes III (TLIII) project funded by the Gates Foundation and  led by ICRISAT.

According to Emmanuel Monyo, the coordinator for this project, TLIII  is seeking to improve the breeding capacity of national agricultural research systems and of  three CG centers―CIAT, IITA, and ICRISAT to provide farmers with improved high yielding legume varieties  to improve the  production and productivity of the crops in Sub-Saharan Africa And Asia. Its target is to improve the livelihoods and nutritional status of smallholder farmers through increased legume production.

N2africa – adding  soybean to the mix:  The ‘Putting nitrogen fixation to work for smallholder farmers in Africa,’ project,  in short  N2Africa, led by Wageningen University in the Netherlands is promoting the production of soybean in the area and introducing  the use of seed innoculants and improved farming methods such as higher density planting and use of appropriate fertilizers both organic, inorganic and bio-fertilizers.

According to Fred Baijukya, an agronomist at IITA’s Eastern Africa hub  and N2Africa Country Coordinator for Tanzania, the project is currently conducting trials of new improved soybean varieties together with ARI-Uyole and lead farmers to identify the best-performing ones as well as have farmers preferred traits to recommend for release.

Freddy Baijukya, IITA Agronomist and N2Africa Country Coordinator explaining to the group on the long-term trials
Freddy Baijukya, IITA Agronomist and N2Africa Country Coordinator explaining to the group on the long-term trials

The project is also conducting agronomic trials looking into the best agronomic practices that will ensure the farmers get the highest returns including time of planting, spacing and use of fertilizers.

Dissemination of technologies: One challenge that faces research organizations is the wide-scale dissemination and scaling out of new technologies to reach many farmers. Two NGOs―One Acre Fund and Farm Inputs Promotion (FIPs)―are assisting in these efforts. FIPs is providing farmer with small packs of different inputs including seeds for improved varieties and fertilizers.  For testing and adoption of those they like and also providing advice on good agronomic practices. FIPS also links farmers to the agro-dealers and private sector companies to ensure supply of the inputs.

One Acre Fund on the other hand is providing loans to farmers to purchase seeds and other inputs such as fertilizers for their farms and training them on better farming practices.

The two development partners are now keen to work with the research teams to help in the dissemination of new legume varieties released from research institutes as well as inputs such as rhizobium and legume fertilizers.

Upendo Women Group holding small packets of inputs from FIPS to test on their farms and decide if they would like to usethem the next growin season.
Upendo Womens Group holding small packets of inputs from FIPS for testing on their farms

These successful cases show the clear link between research and development, says Jean Claude Rubyongo, a seed system specialist from CIAT and who is also one of the researchers who has been conducting research on bean in the country for many years parenting with ARI-Uyole.

If the successes achieved by Daudi and Upendo can be replicated throughout the region, then clearly the region will transform itself and make a big dent in the efforts to support the country to industrialize and reduce poverty and malnutrition.

Stakeholders come together in Burkina Faso to look at biocontrol solution for aflatoxin

IITA with partners United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Institute for Agricultural and Environmental Research in Burkina Faso (INERA) is convening a stakeholders’ conference aimed at increasing awareness of the hazards of aflatoxins, understanding the peculiarities of aflatoxin contamination in local farming areas, and promoting biocontrol mechanisms for stemming its spread in susceptible crops throughout Africa.

Key stakeholders representing various partner institutions during the opening program.
Key stakeholders representing various partner institutions during the opening program.

The stakeholders’ meeting is taking place 23–24 April at the Splendid Hotel, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Participants include producers, scientists, and private-public sector partners working directly with the aflasafe project in reaching farmers in the region and seed companies, CNRST, USDA-FAS, Nestle, and partner universities.

Aflatoxins are naturally occurring poisons produced by fungi known as Aspergillus flavus and others which contaminate the soil and crops (especially maize and groundnut). This contamination has debilitating effects on human health, lowers production of livestock and agriculture, and severely restricts trade opportunities for most farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. Specific interventions in the form of biocontrol mechanisms can, however, be employed in controlling and preventing aflatoxin contamination. This approach significantly improves the security and quality of agricultural produce and increases trade opportunities for stakeholders all along the value chain.

Dr Ranajit Bandyopadhyay, IITA Pathologist (middle row, with laptop), gives an update on the aflasafe project, the factory in IITA Ibadan that produces the biocontrol product, and the market models being used in Nigeria, Kenya, and Senegal to promote access to aflasafe.
Dr Ranajit Bandyopadhyay, IITA Pathologist (middle row, with laptop), gives an update on the aflasafe project, the factory in IITA Ibadan that produces the biocontrol product, and the market models being used in Nigeria, Kenya, and Senegal to promote access to aflasafe.

IITA has adapted a biocontrol approach for Africa that changes the composition of fungal communities by letting local strains of nontoxic A. flavus (atoxigenic strains) become established in the crop environment in place of strains that produce large amounts of aflatoxin. A biocontrol product, called aflasafe BF01, for Burkina Faso was developed by
IITA and partners to reduce the rate of contamination in crops and subsequent risks.

aflasafe BF01 is a natural, simple, safe, and cost-effective product that uses native nontoxic strains to replace aflatoxin-producing fungi. Similar products are being developed or used in more than 10 other African countries. Trials of BF01 have shown a remarkable reduction in aflatoxin contamination in maize (85%) and groundnut (94%). These results have encouraged IITA and its partners to explore the opportunities for escalating the adoption of aflasafe as an effective tool in preventing the spread of aflatoxins in Burkina Faso in particular and sub-Saharan Africa in general. This can be achieved by educating stakeholders about the dangers of aflatoxins and the efficacy of aflasafe.

Policy Action: Uganda Agriculture Minister approves revisions on country’s National Seed Policy

Group photo of workshop participants
Group photo of workshop participants

The Policy Action for Crop Intensification (PASIC) project has made great progress in supporting Uganda in developing its National Food Policy after the revisions made on the country’s National Seed Strategy were approved by the Minister for Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries. The revisions will be submitted along with the National Seed Policy document to Uganda’s cabinet for review.

This is a great milestone for this project in which  IITA, Economic Policy Research Centre (EPRC) and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) are working closely with Uganda’s Agriculture ministry to set up policies and actions for sustainable agricultural intensification to boost the production of small-holder farmers

The National Seed Policy had been reviewed and validated at a Stakeholder’s meeting held last year. This had brought together key players in the sector from private seed companies, local seeds businesses, researchers, district officials, relevant ministries, and parliamentarians.

The seed strategy validation was followed up by further review of the regulations for agricultural chemical control in a process led by the Department of Crop Inspection and Certification of the Agriculture ministry and the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs (MoJCA) in January, 2015. The specific agricultural chemical control regulations include the seed and plant control, pest control and pesticide application equipment regulations.

Director Okaasai opens workshop on the National Seed Strategy of Uganda
Director Okaasai opens workshop on the National Seed Strategy of Uganda

According to Pamela Pali, the PASIC project coordinator, “This is a great milestone for the project and the agriculture sector in the country; access and use of improved seeds by farmers are critical in boosting agriculture production under agriculture intensification.”

She said the seed supply system in Uganda was mostly led by the poorly regulated informal sector which had 80% of the share market; the formal sector taking up the other 20%.  “Currently we have around 20 seed companies that make  up the formal seed supply system that is regulated through the public regulatory system from seed production to certification. The informal seed system, on the other hand, has no organized seed production chain, and is heavily unregulated,” she said.

During the various discussions in the validation process for the National Seed Strategy, several issues were discussed such as the consequences of implementing a private sector led national seed industry and evidence to show how biodiversity will be protected and preserved – passionate issues for the advocacy bodies.

It was agreed that an autonomous body to regulate the seed sector should be established.  Although quality control was seen as the primarily the role of government, the formation of private sector partnership was advocated to encourage competitiveness and efficiency.

Stakeholder from  agricultural research institutions, NGOs  and Uganda’s parliament study the national Seed strategy with a facilitator
Stakeholder from agricultural research institutions, NGOs and Uganda’s parliament study the national Seed strategy with a facilitator

Other key areas agreed upon included the need to build capacity of Quality Declared Seed (QDS) producers – the seed policy has a target to have 20% of the seed as QDS being produced by the informal seed sector. In addition, the mechanisms for self-regulation and internal quality management mechanisms among seed actors were to be strengthened and seed companies to provide extension services beyond the demonstration fields and they, as well as the seed traders, should have at least a seed technologist or technician amongst their staff.

The PASIC project is not only engaged in policy action for policies relevant to crop intensification such as the seed, fertilizer policy and extension; is also conducting research to analyse the bottlenecks in these policies.  This component is led by the by EPRC. From the stakeholder perspective, IITA is conducting research on the engagement of stakeholders in the policy processes. This research includes the analysis of the influence of policy processes and the dis/connect of actors on sustainable crop intensification in Uganda at national, district, and local levels and consideration of gender at these levels.

PASIC has also been collaborating with other projects such as USAID’s Enabling Environment in Agriculture (EEA) – agricultural inputs activity and the Integrated Seed Sector Development (ISSD) to contribute to the project’s efforts to create a favorable policy environment towards intensification of agriculture in the country.

Video:  EFFORTS TO ELIMINATE FAKE SEEDS

Starting a cassava revolution in East and Southern Africa

This video documents the activities of phases one and two of a project whose objective was to promote small-scale processing of cassava as a way of contributing to food security, increasing the income and improving livelihoods of smallholder farmers, creating jobs, and contributing to overall economic development.

Using a value-chain approach to identify and tackle the many challenges from production to marketing of the final products, the project saw the processing of cassava in East and Southern Africa move from rudimentary and traditional with products of poor quality mostly for home use to becoming mechanized with high-quality products for sale in urban supermarkets and industrial use.

The project, “Small-scale cassava processing and vertical integration of the cassava sub-sector in East and Southern Africa”, which ran for a total of eight years and came to an end in 2014, was funded by the Common Fund for Commodities (CFC). It was implemented by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in collaboration with national partners in five countries: the National Center of Applied Research and Rural Development (FOFIFA) of Madagascar; the Zambia Agricultural Research Institute; the National Agriculture Research Organization (NARO) of Uganda; the Tanzania Food and Nutrition Centre (TFNC), and the Agricultural Research Institute of Mozambique (IIAM).

Video overview

Why Cassava?

Fresh cassava roots
Fresh cassava roots

Cassava found its way into Africa over 400 years ago through Portuguese explorers and traders alongside maize, sweet potato, and groundnut. Today, it is an important staple in many countries in the continent. However, in many countries cassava lags behind maize in importance. Moreover, it is a versatile crop that performs relatively well on poor soils, with low rainfall and little inputs such as fertilizer compared to most crops. Therefore, for years, communities have banked on it in times of drought or famine. The roots are also a rich source of carbohydrates and starch which can be processed into raw material for industrial use. However, the main disadvantage is its bulky roots which are difficult to transport and store―they start going bad after two days.

Phase one: Introducing better cassava processing methods and equipment

Most of the communities growing cassava have been processing it in one way or another to extend the shelf life and to eliminate cyanide, a toxic compound released from certain types of cassava when they are not properly processed. Processing involved drying the roots on the floor or roof tops or soaking them in pits for several days before drying, and milling into flour. The products from traditional processing were often unsafe and of poor quality.

Traditional processing of cassava.
Traditional processing of cassava.

Training farmers and small-scale processors: The first phase of the project, therefore, according to Dr Adebayo Abass, IITA value chain specialist and the project coordinator, was to introduce better processing methods and simple energy-efficient and labor-saving equipment such as chippers, graters, and dewatering machines to smallholder farmers and processors.

The project, working with local government extension agents and other local institutions, mobilized the farmers into groups and trained them on mechanical processing of cassava into high-value marketable products such as dried cassava chips, high quality cassava flour (HQCF), and starch for use in homes and industries.

Fabrication of machines: The project also introduced prototype machine designs and worked to build the capacities of machine fabricators to ensure the machines were locally available in the five countries. One of the trainees was Peter Chisawilo from Intermech Engineering Ltd in Tanzania, that went ahead to manufacture hundreds of these equipment that were sold to processors in Malawi, Tanzania, and Uganda.. In collaboration with the project, many other equipment fabricators from DRC, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, etc, were trained.

Mzee Omari Musa from Sululu Farmers Group in Rufiji, South Tanzania, is one of the farmers involved in the project. He says his life and that of his fellow group members is now much better as a result of processing cassava using the modern equipment.

Cassava processing equipment: a grater and a dewatering machine.
Cassava processing equipment: a grater and a dewatering machine.

Finding markets: The project further tested  the starch and the flour produced by the smallholder farmers with potential end-user industries to find out if they were acceptable substitutes for imported raw materials. In Zambia, Tanzania, and Madagascar, HQCF was found to be an acceptable substitute to imported wheat in the bakeries for making bread and biscuits, and for making paper.

Bakefood International in Tanzania, for example, found that blending HQCF and wheat flour improved the texture of cookies and wafers. The company was exporting the wheat-cassava biscuits to Sudan. The company was therefore willing to buy 50 t of the flour per month from the processors―this requires 200 t of fresh cassava roots to be processed every month. The processing groups in Tanzania were linked to the company so they could supply the flour.  However the farmers were not able to supply the factory at the required quality and quantity of flour regularly to the disappointment of the proprietor, Mr Satya.

The same happened in Zambia and Madagascar. Investigation by the project showed that several factors contributed to the constraint. The most important was the inability of the smallholder, semi-mechanized processors to dry the cassava quickly to maintain quality and increase turn-over of products. Drying, a critical step in processing the flour relied on sun-drying. This was a major challenge in the processing of HQCF. The processors spread the grated cassava in the sun to dry before milling it and this limited processing during the rainy season. This led to phase two of the project.

Phase two: Introducing mechanical drying technologies and a two-step supply chain

Phase two looked into some of the hurdles faced by the processors in Madagascar, Tanzania, and Zambia in supplying HQCF to the industries in the required quality and quantity.

Searching for alternatives to sun drying: mechanical drying

Solar dying of grated and chipped cassava
Solar dying of grated cassava

The project explored existing drying technologies and settled on the use of the pneumatic drying technique using flash dryers. Due to their high cost and drying capacity,  it was not practical to have all the small-scale processors install the dryers and the project therefore developed a two-step processing procedure.

A flash drier at Ukaya farm, Tanzania

At the village level, several small-scale processors bought cassava from farmers, peeled, washed, and removed the water to form semi-dried grits which have a longer shelf life and are much easier to transport than fresh cassava. The grits are sold to a medium-scale processor with a mechanical dryer within the community who dries the grits and mills into flour to sell to industries and urban consumers.

Basilisa Minja, Secretary of Umoja group in Mtwara region in Tanzania, praised the two-step production process as it removed the headache of sun-drying and they were able to process cassava during both rainy and dry seasons.

Amfrad Magula, the manager at Procepres Enterprises Ltd in Northern Zambia, where a flash dryer is being used, says the dryer has led to a great improvement in the quality of the flour they are producing and selling to industries in Lusaka, Zambia.

Improving cassava varieties: The project in both its first and second phases worked with cassava breeders from IITA and national research centers to give farmers improved varieties to increase productivity. This was particularly important as many of the varieties the farmers were growing were susceptible to the two viral diseases spreading through East and Southern Africa and leaving behind a wave of destruction: cassava brown streak disease and cassava mosaic disease.

Saving the forest in Madagascar: The project also installed a flour processing unit in a starch making factory in Marovitsika, Madagascar. The firm which was set up in 1945 was no longer manufacturing starch. The several communities whose livelihoods depended on the starch factory for many years resorted to felling the trees in the forest that was developed for decades by the starch factory. However, it has now started production of cassava flour which according to the manager, Robinson David Alexander, is proceeding rather well. This in turn, it is hoped, will reduce the destruction of the forest.

Attracting investors: The project has also attracted investors interested in setting up firms to process cassava starch. Such investors included Mr Shabir Zaveri from Tanzania who intends to construct a cassava starch making factory in his 200 acre Nyambiri farm in Rufiji, Coast Region.

Partnerships to develop standards for cassava products: The project collaborated with regional and national food regulatory institutions in the East and Central Africa to develop harmonized standards for cassava starch, flour, and other cassava products. Trainings of the cassava processors were done to increase their capacity to produce standard products that comply with the harmonized standards. The purpose was to increase regional trade in cassava and make the crop a tradable commodity in the East, Central, and Southern Africa.

Training processors on standards for cassava products.
Training processors on standards for cassava products.

The end of the beginning: While the CFC project has come to an end, it has made a lot of progress in the push to commercialize cassava in East and Southern Africa. It has created awareness on the diverse and unexploited market opportunity for cassava and in turn sparked interest in many individuals to set up cassava processing ventures. Many lessons have also been learned and no doubt, the project has laid a firm foundation for a cassava processing revolution that will increase the income of smallholder farmers and processors, create jobs, save foreign change expenditure, and contribute to economic development.

Project seeks to diversify cassava food recipes in Zanzibar

Peeling the cassava in readiness to make cassava pilao
Peeling the cassava in readiness to make cassava pilao

While cassava is among the most important crops in the isle of Zanzibar, Tanzania, where it is ranked second to rice, the residents consume it in very limited and not so exciting ways. It is boiled or fried with oil and eaten as a snack /breakfast or stewed in coconut milk for lunch or dinner.  This in turn limits the demand and market for the crop.

The Support to Agricultural Research for Development of Strategic Crops in Africa (SARD-SC) project which is promoting the production of the crop is also working on diversifying the methods of cooking and consuming cassava, introducing more exciting recipes.

Recently, the project in collaboration with one of its partner in the isle, Zanzibar Agricultural Research Institute (ZARI), held training for farmers, processors and traders on preparing additional food recipes using cassava. These included making cakes, bans, spicy porridge and chin chin – a snack made of fried stringy cassava (sort of like fried cassava spaghetti). These were made from high quality cassava flour (HQCF) – on its own or mixed with wheat flour. They also made chicken cassava pilau in which peeled cassava that’s cut into little pieces substituted rice in this popular dish.

The SARD-SC project seeks to increase food security and improve the income and living standards of small-holder farmers in  20 African countries, including  Tanzania, by increasing the production of four important staple crops – maize, wheat, cassava and rice. It is funded by the Africa Development Bank (AfDB).

A high resolution genetic linkage map of cassava published in G3

Cassava roots affected by cassava brown streak diseases - the linkage maps will help breeders in their efforts to develop varieties resistant to this deadly disease.
Cassava roots affected by cassava brown streak diseases – the linkage map will help scientists in their efforts to develop varieties resistant to this and other  deadly diseases.   Photo by J. Legg

A high-resolution linkage map and chromosome scale-genome assembly for cassava by a group of international researchers, including some from IITA, has been published in G3 Genes Genomes Genetics, and highlighted by the Genetics Society of America (http://www.g3journal.org/content/5/1/133.full).

The linkage map was generated by combining 10 genetic maps from 14 diverse parents from African cassava breeding projects including those of IITA in East Africa and Nigeria. It was a collaborative effort  aomg researchers from  IITA, the Agricultural Research Institute (ARI) of Tanzania, National Crops Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI) in Uganda, National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI) in Nigeria and the University of Berkeley/ Joint Genome Institute, USA.

It was accomplished through two collaborative projects funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. One of them, administered by IITA, focuses on the development of mapping populations, and the other, by  University of Arizona, focuses on improving the cassava genome sequence.

According to Dr Morag Ferguson, IITA’s Cassava Molecular Geneticist, the maps have allowed the aligning of DNA sequence fragments into larger fragments or scaffolds, so that now 90% of the cassava genome assembly is contained in only 30 large fragments, whereas previously it was made up of approximately 13,000 pieces.

“This will be a valuable tool in a number of research areas from diversity assessments to functional genomics and will ultimately assist researchers to efficiently identify and use genetic variation for improved productivity, disease resistance, enhanced nutrition and to develop varieties for industrial processing amongst other applications,’ she said.

This is good news for small-holder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa where currently the crop’s production is greatly threatened by two viral diseases, cassava mosaic disease (CMD) and cassava brown streak disease (CBSD).