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.

Enhancing soybean production in Nigeria through the SARD-SC maize system

The IITA/SARD-SC maize system soybean production enhancement planning workshop was held 1-4 February in Abuja to promote soybean cultivation and utilization in Nigeria. The workshop became imperative because of the huge deficit in the annual demand for the crop. Demand is currently estimated at 2.2 million tons; the annual production of 600,000 tons is grossly inadequate to meet this demand hence the need for a concerted effort to bridge the gap.

Chrys Akem reiterates the importance of promoting soybean at the workshop.
Chrys Akem reiterates the importance of
promoting soybean at the workshop.

The project is expected to mobilize the strength and expertise of stakeholders in the maize–soybean value chain to support production of soybean, a complementary crop to the maize commodity value chain in the SARD-SC project.

In his opening remarks, Chrys Akem, SARD-SC Project Coordinator, reiterated the importance of soybean and bemoaned the current low cultivation of the legume in the country.

“This workshop is an opportunity for us to walk our way back to the days when we had a surplus and strengthen soybean cultivation as a companion crop to maize.” Akem enumerated the many advantages of soybean as a food and nutritional security crop in Africa and the many existing high yielding varieties with good resistance to rust. He mentioned the opportunity for market linkages through the innovation platforms while challenging the soybean growers and poultry feed millers to maintain the sustainability of the soybean industry.

Sam Ajala, Maize Commodity Specialist, emphasized how the workshop participants could help map out a focused and clear goal for the crop in the next five years, and introduce business-led models to market soybean.

In his paper, titled Enhancing Soybean Production within the SARD-SC Maize Project in Nigeria, Kolawole Ojo, SARD-SC Soybean Scientist, stated the economic importance of the crop and the complementarity of maize-soybean production. “Soybean improves soil fertility through atmospheric nitrogen fixation. Processed soybeans are the world’s largest source of animal feed and the second largest source of vegetable oil,” he said.

Ojo said that the SARD-SC project will help generate improved maize and soybean production/utilization technologies; ensure dissemination/promotion of improved technologies; enhance food and nutrition security; and contribute to poverty reduction in Africa. Ojo emphasized the importance of partnership with national and international scientists, seed companies, processors, farmers, NGOs, and extension workers as part of the operational strategy to achieve these projections. Some of the steps to enhance soybean production include capacity building of the value chain actors, and generation and promotion of preferred maize/soybean varieties that could be adapted to various agroecologies and that are tolerant to major biotic and abiotic stresses.

Soybean scientists from research institutes, soybean farmers, poultry farmers, representatives of seed companies, and other interested stakeholders attended the workshop and brainstormed on the strategies to enhance soybean cultivation. They also deliberated on the way forward for soybean production enhancement.

New project impresses visiting USAID mission

The consortium of CGIAR Centers implementing the Feed the Future project Malawi Improved Seed Systems and Technologies received a vote of confidence when a visiting team from the USAID headquarters as well as USAID/Malawi mission expressed their satisfaction after witnessing the work the partners are doing in the field.

Dr Rob Bertram (left) listening to a presentation by Dr Alene Arega of IITA on a soy demonstration field.
Dr Rob Bertram (left) listening to a presentation by Dr Alene Arega of IITA on a soy demonstration field.

The USAID team, which was led by their Chief Scientist, Dr Robert Bertram, visited IITA’s soybean trials and breeder seed production as well as various other trials and demonstration plots at Chitedze Research Station.

The visitors had a chance to listen to presentations and also to appreciate more of the consortium’s work when they visited a pavilion at Chitedze Research Station where members showcased some of their achievements through displays.

Speaking later, the USAID team leader was visibly impressed. He described the work of the CGIAR Consortium in Malawi under the project as ‘exciting’.

“I am really excited to see the consortium taking shape,” said Dr Bertram. “The work the consortium is doing will not only address the critical shortage of improved seeds but will also bring research to the farmers. The presentations I have heard show that the system they are using is sustainable and will help in boosting food production in Malawi.”

Dr Bertram also added that the consortium was filling a gap in a sustainable way that empowered all the national partners and would benefit farmers and communities due to the increased availability of seeds of improved varieties.

He explained, “I am so happy that the USAID mission here in Malawi has reached out and worked with the CGIAR Centers to make a true consortium. You can sense the excitement and feel how much the Centers like being part of the group effort……this is at the heart of what we are looking for in terms of helping smallholder farm families make the transition so that they move out of poverty.”

The project will use public-private partnerships and revolving fund approaches to develop a sustainable soybean seed production, marketing, and distribution system with complementary integrated crop management practices to enhance the farmers’ access to improved technologies and increase their adoption.

Breeder seeds will be produced by the Department of Agricultural Research Services (DARS) and IITA to support the public, private, and community-based seed producers and will be fed into a network of certified seed producers. These include small-scale seed enterprises and community-based seed outgrower schemes to produce the targeted quantities of certified seeds.

The project has already made some progress, which also impressed Dr Bertram and his team. “I have seen a lot of highly resilient crops during the field visit such as drought tolerant maize that looked really good compared with the non-drought tolerant varieties.”

“This will help to drive diversification because if people are more confident about their maize yield, they will put some of their land to other crops. I was really excited and would love to see this partnership emerging at the grassroots level in the CGIAR system,” he said.

Responding to questions by the visiting team on IITA’s partnership with local organizations, Dr Arega Alene, IITA’s Country Representative, said they were working with the National Smallholder Farmers Association of Malawi (NASFAM), a reputable organization with vast experience in community-based seed production.

“We have NASFAM as our partner in this project because they have the structures and experience in community-based soybean seed production through well-trained local seed producer groups. They have large and elaborate agricultural extension machinery countrywide and farms that would effectively support the soybean technology dissemination system.”

“So far, the relationship has been good as we have managed to implement the project according to agreed plans,” he explained.

Dr Arega explaining about the project during a visit by the USAID team to IITA's display booth.
Dr Arega explaining about the project during a visit by the USAID team to IITA’s display booth.

On the demand for soybean on the local market, Dr Arega said, “I wouldn’t say that sufficient demand for seeds has been created yet. Limited effective demand for seeds has always been a major constraint and this is largely why the private sector has little interest in the  legume seed business in general. We have taken it upon ourselves to create demand by using different mechanisms such as field demonstrations and related extension campaigns. These are not only intended to create awareness of the availability of different varieties with many different attributes but also to demonstrate to farmers the benefits of improved varieties and complementary agronomic practices.”

Video: Story of IITA Agripreneurs in Tanzania

Last year, 2014, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) launched an agricultural youth program in Tanzania to contribute to efforts to tackle youth unemployment while, at the same time, using young people to modernize agriculture.

The program is part of an institute wide youth program known as IITA Agripreneurs started at its Headquarters in Ibadan Nigeria three years ago under the leadership of IITA Director General, Nteranya Sanginga. It has since spread to other countries where IITA is working including Kenya, Uganda, Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

In Tanzania, the program dubbed ‘IITA Tanzania Youth Agripreneurs’ (IYA) brings together graduates of different disciplines keen on pursuing agriculture as a business.  The group has received training on modern farming methods and processing and value addition.

The group is engaged in four activities: production and processing of cassava, maize and soybean, production of vegetables and offering weeding services.

According to Veronica Kabwe, the chairlady of the group, the program is a very good opportunity for the youth: “We are getting free trainings…. It is a big opportunity and we have to take it as youth. The knowledge is very useful not just for IITA but even at home. It’s a very beneficial program for youth and I advise them to take it very seriously,” she says.

Other links:

Tanzania: Youths Deserve Jobs to Sustain Their Daily Lives

Tanzania trains Agripreneurs for agriculture change