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.

The SUN rises for maternal and child health in Zambia

In many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, governments and communities are adopting innovations that improve the lives of millions through better agricultural production to diversify household diets and enhance nutritional status especially of poor subsistence-based farming households. In Zambia, IITA is helping bring this about by introducing farm families to technologies that give them more crop-based choices to improve their health and nutrition.

SUN farmers in an orange maize demo site in Mansa, Northern Province
SUN farmers in an orange maize demo site in Mansa, Northern Province

With a local partner, Development Aid from People to People (DAPP), IITA is implementing a nutrition-sensitive agriculture-based intervention. This is named SUN – or Scaling-up Nutrition: the first 1000 critical days from pregnancy until a child turns 2 years old. The SUN project aims to enhance the nutrition and health status of children under 2 years and pregnant or lactating women through increased  production of different crops, dietary diversification, and the consumption of these nutrient-rich  crops in poor smallholder farming communities in Luapula, Eastern, and Northern Provinces of Zambia.

Mrs Elizabeth Tembo (far left, holding her child) with other members of her community participating in the SUN project in in Kipara, Chipata, Eastern Province
Mrs Elizabeth Tembo (far left, holding her child) with other members of her community participating in the SUN project in in Kipara, Chipata, Eastern Province

The project is being supported by UK Aid, Irish Aid, the Government of Sweden, and the Zambian Government through the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock.

In an interview, Mrs Elizabeth Tembo, a project beneficiary and a mother who recently gave birth in Kapara, Chipata, in the Eastern Province of Zambia, said she was grateful to the SUN project from IITA/DAPP. She had learned a lot about improved farming practices that integrate high-yielding varieties of nutritious crops, such as cowpea, soybean, and legumes, as well as fruits and a variety of green, leafy vegetables. She also related how the project taught her how to prepare a variety of tasty dishes that use the crops she grows in her own field.

“My family really likes these dishes, and I know that they are good for them as well as for me and my baby since I am still breastfeeding him,” Mrs Tembo narrated.

Apart from growing and using the nutritious crops, Mrs Tembo also learned traditional pest control methods which she is applying on her field. She said she was teaching other women in her community about the things she has learned from the SUN project to help to reduce the high prevalence of malnutrition and stunting among children.

Farmers weeding soybean plots at a SUN demo site in Kasama, Northern Province
Farmers weeding soybean plots at a SUN demo site in Kasama, Northern Province

In Lundazi, Mrs Lyness Zimba says that the she has been regularly attending the weekly training given to women like her in her community by agricultural and health specialists working under the SUN project. “They teach us the basics of nutrition, the importance of feeding our children nutritious foods, and how to cultivate and use various nutrient-rich crops in our homesteads. The project also gave us cookery recipes that make use of the crops.”

“Apart from the obvious health benefits
of the crops being espoused by the
project, the simple act of gaining knowledge about nutrition for my family is empowering,” she added. “I will definitely continue to practice what I have learned even after the project, for my sake and the sake of my children.”

SUN participants in Kasama and Mansa in the Northern Province of the country also aired their appreciation of IITA/DAPP for bringing the project in their communities. They indicated that they had benefited a lot and would adopt the practices they had learned to reduce malnutrition and stunting in their families.

Mrs Lyness Zimba of Kapichila camp in Lundazi being interviewed by journalists about the benefits of the SUN project
Mrs Lyness Zimba of Kapichila camp in Lundazi being interviewed by journalists about the benefits of the SUN project

The SUN project continues to provide participating farmers in its project areas with training on improved agronomic practices, seed multiplication, the need for timely planting and weeding, cultivating diverse crops rich in protein and vitamin A, and the utilization and processing of the crops.
IITA and DAPP have also linked the farmers to other organizations that are training
them on improved crop storage and preservation.

Dream it, work hard, and you will Make it Happen


The tough journeys

“When I went to the United States, to do my Masters, I was the only black person in my class, the only female, and the only foreigner. On top of that I had two small children. It was not easy. However, with determination and hard work, I was able to do exceedingly well in my studies, ” says Dr Mary Mgonja, the Head of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).

Dr Mary Mgonja, Head of AGRA in Tanzania sharing her journey to becoming a scientist. Next to her is Dr Rose Shayo from the Institute of Development Studies, University of Dar es Salaam.
Dr Mary Mgonja, Head of AGRA in Tanzania sharing her journey to becoming a scientist. Next to her is Dr Rose Shayo from the Institute of Development Studies, University of Dar es Salaam.

Dr Mgonja was sharing her journey on becoming a successful scientist as part of a panel discussion organized to mark this year’s International Women’s Day held at IITA offices in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The event dubbed “#Make It Happen for Women in Science” was in line with this year’s theme of the day “Make It Happen.”

The panel discussion brought together female researchers in Tanzania working in diverse research fields and at various levels of their career―those starting out and those at their peak to discuss and share their stories, successes, and challenges before an audience of IITA researchers and partners, the media, and aspiring young scientists drawn from surrounding secondary schools.

The panel members: From left, Dr Francesca Nelson, Dr Costancia Rugumaru, Ms Mary Maganga, Dr Rose Shayo, Dr Mary Mgonja and Ms Eddah Mushi.

In addition to Dr Mgonja, the other panelists were Dr Costancia Rugumaru, Dean, Faculty of Science at the University of Dar es Salaam, School of Education; Dr Francesca Nelson, Senior Food Security Specialist, IITA; and Mary Maganga  and Edda Mushi, both Research Supervisors at IITA. The session was facilitated by Dr Rose Shayo, a Senior Lecturer at IDS.

All the panelists shared on the various challenges they had undergone and the lessons they had learned along the way and offered words of encouragement to potential female scientists on the theme that kept repeating itself―hard work.

“In all the places you will work, be yourself, respect your superiors, and do your job well,” said Dr Regina Kapinga who will be joining IITA as Head of Advocacy and Resource Mobilization from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Dr Kapinga shared her journey from a simple village girl to working as a Senior Program Officer with the Gates Foundation.

Dr Kapinga
Dr Kapinga shares on her journey from a simple village girl to an international researcher in Seattle, USA as the facilitator, Dr Dr Rose Shayo looks on.

“One of my biggest challenges was the lack of facilities to study science in my high school. We did not have laboratories and equipment, however, I persevered, did well, and processed to the university to pursue my degree in agronomy. At the university, we were very few students as many women said agronomy was very hard,” added Edda Mushi, on her challenges in school.

Eddah Mushi, a young researchershares on her short but challenging journey to becoming a researcher at IITA
Eddah Mushi, a young researchershares on her short but challenging journey to becoming a researcher at IITA

Dr Franscesca Nelson focused on the importance of tackling existing social conventions which were disadvantageous to women. These included issues such as violence against women and discrimination of women that were deeply rooted in cultural beliefs and social norms.

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Gender at IITA

Dr Manyong welcoming  the participants
Dr Manyong welcoming the participants

While officially opening the event Dr Victor Manyong, IITA Director for Eastern Africa briefed participants on gender issues at the Institute. He said gender was very important to IITA as an international research organization whose goal was to tackle hunger, poverty, and malnutrition in sub-Saharan Africa.

“We cannot address poverty, hunger, and malnutrition in Africa without understanding and addressing the constraints faced by women farmers who in most communities provide the majority of agricultural labor on the family farm, and process food for markets as well as family consumption.  In some communities, they are not allowed to own land or other agricultural assets and they have no say in any decisions on farm incomes and activities,” he said.

Dr Manyong added, “It’s therefore important to factor these considerations in our research-for-development interventions to ensure they benefit all Africans, women and men alike.”


Science students from near by school listen keenly
A science student from a near by school listens keenly

The students from nearby secondary schools invited to the  event appreciated the opportunity to meet and hear from successful researchers and said  they had been  very inspired.

“We were very happy to meet all these senior successful scientists who have motivated us and showed us that science can be for girls. We do not have many such opportunities and wish there would be more of such forums and even reach out to more girls including those in the rural areas,” said Glory Venance, a form 5 student at Jangwani Secondary School.  “However, in our school similar to what one of the panelists shared, we do not have good facilities and equipment. Therefore even as we are being motivated to take up science, the government should also look into this challenge.”

The event was declared to be successful in many ways and the participants urged IITA and its partner institutions to find ways to organize other such forums to motivate girls to take up science and encourage the young scientists starting their careers.

The event was organized by the IITA in collaboration with AGRA and the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) of the University of Dar es Salaam.

N2Africa receives World Bank award

N2Africa has received a prestigious prize through the Harvesting Nutrition Contest, sponsored by the World Bank, which aimed at rewarding agricultural projects around the world  that have bridged the gaps between nutrition, agriculture and food security. N2Africa was picked among 50 highly-acclaimed projects from around the world, all showcasing efforts to improve the impact of interventions in agriculture and food security on nutritional outcomes.

The contest was organized by the Secure Nutrition Knowledge Platform in partnership with the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and Save the Children.

N2Africa emerged winner alongside two other projects. It was chosen because of its positive impact on the nutrition of its beneficiaries, novelty in its approach to linking agriculture and nutrition, demonstration of an application of old approaches employed in an innovative way, and potential feasibility on a broad-scale basis.

In addition to getting the US$ 5000 prize money, N2Africa will also be documented in a multimedia portrait which will be made available for viewing on the Secure Nutrition website.

The N2Africa project focuses on maximizing benefits for smallholder farmers growing legumes, such as groundnut, cowpea and common bean – generally regarded as women’s crops in Africa – through nitrogen fixation. This is a process that gives soil bacteria the ability to convert atmospheric nitrogen into plant-usable forms. IITA and Wageningen University are taking the lead in this project that is being implemented with funds from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Howard G. Buffet Foundation.


Smallholder groups in Sierra Leone get eleven new cassava processing factories

IITA with funds from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has constructed and equipped eleven cassava processing factories for smallholder groups. This is part of efforts to support the Smallholders’ Commercialization Program (SCP) of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security (MAFFS) in the Eastern, Southern and Northern provinces of Sierra Leone. IITA has also supported these smallholder groups and farmers in their immediate2

Women participating in the sensory evaluation survey of the new cassava products
Women participating in the sensory evaluation survey of the new cassava products

to establish cassava farms of improved varieties to feed the factories.

Dr Braima James, IITA Representative in Sierra Leone, also said that the SARD-SC cassava project has plans to establish four more factories with support from the African Development Bank. Two will be in Tonkololi district, one in Bo district, and another in Kono district.

In addition to the various products already widespread in Sierra Leone, the new factories  will process the improved varieties into four new value-added products that IITA is promoting—odorless fufu flour, attieke/cassava couscous, tapioca pap, and cassava ice cream.

To ensure that there is a viable market for these new products being promoted, a consumer acceptance and sensory evaluation survey was led by Dr Bussie Maziya-Dixon, Head of IITA’s Crop Utilization Unit. The survey showed that the new products were “good to go”. This survey was undertaken to capture consumers’ perceptions and acceptance of the new products and possible recommendations for their improvement. Ibironke Popoola, Research Associate, Crop Utilization Unit, said the exercise also provided marketing information for small- and medium-scale industries wishing to commercialize the new products.

Other partners working to ensure the sustainability of this project include the Sierra Leone MAFFS, Sierra Leone Agricultural Research Institute (SLARI), World Vision International, Future in Our Hands, and World Hope International.