Ally Mahunda: Navigating Bagamoyo’s Rice Industry Towards a Profitable and Sustainable Future

Initiatives to Promote Rice Production in Bagamoyo: IRRI’s Dynamic Approach

By Anthony Muchoki and Enock Kyando 

In the coastal heartland of Tanzania, the verdant plains of Bagamoyo unfold in a spectacle of several rice paddy fields, a tribute to an age-old tradition sustained by the resilience of its people and the generous fecundity of its land. This region, steeped in centuries of agrarian practices, has seen rice cultivation evolve from a localised subsistence activity into an economic powerhouse fueling the local economy.

The town of Bagamoyo, a sleeping giant awakened by the trade winds of the 19th century, once stood as a crucial trading hub, where an exchange of culture, commodities, and ideas brewed. Here, rice found its destiny intertwined with the region’s fortunes. An invaluable asset, it fueled commerce and catalyzed societal evolution, the echoes of which resonate today.

As the pages of the 20th century unfolded, developments in the sphere of agronomy – the introduction of high-yielding rice varieties and the advent of sophisticated irrigation methods – marked a significant inflection point in Bagamoyo’s rice cultivation saga. This techno-agrarian revolution sparked a dramatic surge in production, transforming the once local enterprise into an international phenomenon.

In a bid to reinforce food security, the Tanzanian government has recently orchestrated a symphony of policies that fervently promote rice farming. This strategic alignment has transformed Bagamoyo into an epicenter of large-scale rice cultivation and export. It’s no longer merely a slice of Tanzanian topography, but a dynamic economic entity that contributes significantly to the region’s income and establishes its prominence on the global agroeconomic stage.

Key to this transformation is a host of unsung heroes who silently and steadfastly guide this agrarian renaissance. Among them, Ally Mahunda shines with particular radiance. A Seed System and Product Management Specialist based in Bagamoyo, he’s an integral part of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI-Africa). His role is not just one of guidance but of knowledge dissemination, innovative strategy, and steadfast support to the farming community., sought to glean insights into Mahunda’s invaluable contribution. The dynamic interplay of traditional wisdom and modern science, as discussed by Mahunda, shines a light on Bagamoyo’s extraordinary journey in rice cultivation, offering an inspiring tale of human tenacity, innovation, and triumph.

Amidst the backdrop of food shortages ravaging some regions of Tanzania, the rice business in Bagamoyo is witnessing a steady upswing. This surge in activity has placed Bagamoyo on the national radar as a crucial hub for premium rice cultivation. Ally, spoke candidly about this development.

“Every place where rice is grown is seeing an influx of customers and dealers alike, their quest fueled by the need to source the best rice produced in Tanzania,” says Mahunda. “Bagamoyo is one of the best areas where diverse rice varieties are grown, thus becoming a prime destination for these seekers.”

However, the booming business has not been devoid of its challenges. The increased demand for rice has led to a spike in prices, causing some discontent among farmers demanding better returns for their toil. Mahunda empathises, “It’s a universal narrative, a shared dream of those who till the land, seeking the rewards they deserve.”

Despite these concerns, Mahunda asserts that the overall state of the rice business in Bagamoyo is thriving. “One can’t draw a parallel to the last three or five years. The dynamics have significantly changed. Our benchmark has shifted,” he remarks.

With the looming food crisis both nationally and globally, Mahunda notes a silver lining in the cloud – a cause for celebration among the farming community. “Rice production, which is much more than an economic activity for us, is being celebrated. Amid the global turmoil, we find ourselves flourishing. This is our present state of business: we’re not just surviving; we’re flourishing,” notes Mahunda.

While the rice business in Bagamoyo is flourishing, a set of challenges are starting to emerge, according to Ally. One of the key obstacles confronting the region is the increasing shortage of suitable land for irrigation. “Most of the prepared land which supports the irrigation system is shrinking as more people are being encouraged to participate in agriculture,” Mahunda explains. “We’re faced with a shortage of food and an increasing scarcity of areas where infrastructure for efficient cultivation has been built.”

Further complicating the situation is the issue of salinity. The coastal region’s proximity to the ocean and reliance on river and rainwater for irrigation has resulted in a delicate ecological balance. “During periods of low rainfall, we face drought, which leads to seawater entering the river. The high salt content of this water can significantly impact the growth of rice,” Mahunda reveals.

Despite these challenges, Mahunda and his International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) team are working diligently to devise solutions. There’s a lack of rice varieties that can thrive in saline conditions. However, the IRRI is researching to mitigate this issue.

“We’re collaborating with the Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute (TARI) and other partners to develop strategies to address the challenge of salinity,” says Mahunda. “Our aim is not just to survive these obstacles but to turn them into opportunities for innovation and resilience.”

Another significant obstacle that rice farmers in the region grapple with is the lack of capital. “Agriculture involves considerable investment, and unfortunately, most farmers in the coastal region are poor,” says Ally.  Apart from the limited financial resources, farmers are also dealing with the issue of accessing quality fertilizers. Mahunda recognizes this as one of the primary challenges the local agricultural community faces, intensifying their struggle to scale and sustain production levels.

Despite these hurdles, Bagamoyo’s strategic location and infrastructural advantages position it as a potentially vital player in the nation’s food security. Proximity to major urban centers such as Dar es Salaam and Tanga gives Bagamoyo an upper hand. “Bagamoyo is central to the capital city and the business hub of Tanzania. The potential for rice production is considerable as the area is easily accessible, with excellent road infrastructure and minimal obstacles,” elaborates Mahunda.

Mahunda is optimistic about the future, suggesting that a focused investment in improving irrigation infrastructure can unlock Bagamoyo’s potential. He envisions Bagamoyo not just as a significant player in rice production, but as a region that can feed numerous people across the area and nearby regions.

“Rice is a staple food, consumed by many families in the surrounding regions. By capitalizing on Bagamoyo’s potential, we can provide for these families and significantly contribute to the nation’s food security,” Mahunda adds.

As regions across Tanzania grapple with dependency on rain-fed agriculture, Bagamoyo is setting a different tune. Its ability to leverage the irrigation system sets it apart, leading to high yields and making it an attractive prospect for investors, according to Ally..

“Bagamoyo does not depend on rain. It’s an irrigation scheme. The demand for rice here is extremely high, and production levels match that demand,” Mahunda reveals. “As we move through the region, from the preparation stages to harvesting and milling, the presence of rice dealers purchasing from farmers is evident.”

The market in Bagamoyo teems with activity, and the flow of people seeking the local rice testifies to its soaring demand. Mahunda further adds, “If you visit the local shops selling milled rice, you’d see the constant flow of customers. The demand for rice is undoubtedly high.”

Mahunda sees this as a golden opportunity for investors. He calls for people, especially farmers, to invest in Bagamoyo’s rice industry and irrigation infrastructure. “I assure those who want to cultivate, especially rice, they won’t face any loss. On the contrary, they’ll reap profits from their investment. The high demand for rice guarantees a healthy return.”

This call to action represents a window of opportunity for investors and farmers alike. With its thriving rice industry and robust irrigation system, Bagamoyo presents a fertile ground for profitable cultivation. The area stands as a testament to the potential gains when traditional farming techniques are harmoniously blended with modern, sustainable practices. Bagamoyo is not just a region of rice fields; it’s an invitation to an abundant future.

While the Tanzania central government and local authorities contribute significantly to Bagamoyo’s thriving rice industry, innovative technologies are playing an equally vital role, driving the region’s rice farming processes into a modern era and addressing sustainability concerns, according to Ally.

Mahunda cites instances of governmental backing that are bolstering Bagamoyo’s rice sector. “The government has supported forming farming associations, facilitating collective cultivation and using government-provided infrastructure. They have also employed qualified agricultural officers and extension officers to deal with the challenges faced by farmers. The government is investing in anything under government control that can assist the farmers and enhance their capacity in rice production,” he explains.

Technology, Mahunda notes, plays a crucial part in modernizing the agricultural sector, particularly in rice farming. “The farming methods have evolved from primitive to modern, replacing local methods with tractors, rotavators, and power tillers during land preparation. This change saves time, money, and increases efficiency,” Mahunda adds.

Other technological advancements include milling machines that significantly enhance the winnowing process, providing superior quality milled rice compared to traditional methods. Furthermore, introducing improved rice varieties, irrigation systems, and storage solutions contribute to optimizing farming operations.

“The power of technology extends to pest control, where we now use chemicals to combat insects and weeds. You can see the fields are very clean; this is the power of technology,” says Mahunda.

Technology also responds to farmers’ needs. Mahunda mentions the example of the Seedcast app developed by IRRI (International Rice Research Institute), enabling farmers to find the best rice seeds suited to their environment simply by browsing and installing the app from the Play Store.

Bagamoyo’s rice industry effectively balances sustainability, environmental conservation, and dealing with the realities of climate change. According to Mahunda, this balance ensures a year-round thriving industry that does not harm the environment and is resilient to climatic shifts.

Mahunda describes Bagamoyo’s rice production as highly sustainable. “We do not depend on rain; irrigation is key,” he states. “Bagamoyo is unique because we have a double cropping season. Farmers don’t stop; they crop right after harvesting.” This practice allows the area to sustain rice production annually, irrespective of rainfall patterns.

Environmental conservation is also a top priority in Bagamoyo. “We assure the proper use of water. We don’t just pour water into the fields, we use a sustainable amount required by the farm during irrigation,” says Mahunda. He notes that Bagamoyo takes careful measures to prevent water bodies from being overexploited or polluted, which could harm aquatic life.

Use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides is carefully managed to avoid environmental harm. After use, chemical containers are collected and stored in designated facilities, rather than being discarded indiscriminately. “This ensures environmental conservation,” Mahunda explains.

Investors interested in Bagamoyo’s rice industry can look forward to secure returns, according to Mahunda. “Your investment in milling machines, power tillers, or tractors is safe because all these activities are active. All investors will benefit; there is no loss in infrastructure,” he guarantees.

Climate change, Mahunda acknowledges, poses significant challenges worldwide, not only in Bagamoyo or Tanzania. Regions are experiencing decreased and unpredictable rainfall due to these changes. However, the adoption of improved, early-maturing rice varieties is one way the region is combating this issue. “Here in Bagamoyo, farmers are educated and motivated to use these new, improved rice varieties, which mature earlier than the local varieties. This has greatly mitigated the challenges posed by climate change, and farmers are benefiting from using these improved rice varieties,” Mahunda highlights.

“Researchers are working tirelessly to develop rice varieties that can adapt to climate change. The longest maturing variety now takes 120 days, while the early ones mature in 100-105 days. This is a significant reduction from the six-month duration of local varieties,” says Mahunda. He underscores that such advancements have helped farmers cope with climate change and have contributed significantly to the region’s thriving rice industry.

Initiatives to Promote Rice Production in Bagamoyo: IRRI’s Dynamic Approach

Mahunda, , shared how the he International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) is driving change through innovative methodologies and knowledge dissemination. “We engage farmers through our field schools, creating a platform for active learning where best practices and correct methods for rice cultivation take center stage,” Mahunda emphasized.

These field schools, Mahunda explained, are not just theoretical lessons. They provide farmers with the unique opportunity to practically select the best-performing seeds, tailored to their specific region. This process empowers farmers to make informed decisions, setting the stage for improved yields.

The Variety Cafeteria (VC) event organized by IRRI Bagamoyo and IRRI Tanzania is a significant stride in this direction. Mahunda elaborated on this intriguing four-step process: “Farmers engage in the selection of visually appealing rice samples from the field, followed by assessing rice grain appearance. Subsequently, they choose rice samples in their raw and milled forms before finally tasting cooked rice samples.” This meticulous process allows farmers to vote for seeds that exhibit outstanding performance at every stage.

The end goal of these efforts, Mahunda emphasized, is to ensure that excellence spans from the field to the kitchen, nurturing a profound understanding of rice cultivation among farmers.

But this endeavor transcends the boundaries of the rice paddies. “Our initiatives involve an extensive network of stakeholders,” Mahunda pointed out. Government officials, nutrition experts, rice and grain vendors, agricultural input suppliers, and professionals from both private and government sectors all contribute to the cause. The overarching objective is to disseminate invaluable rice farming knowledge to all farmers, regardless of their scale of operation.

Mahunda’s vision extends to gender equality, exemplified by the “Twaweza Women Group” he founded. “We actively encourage women’s participation in rice production, aligning with IRRI’s commitment to gender parity,” Mahunda proudly proclaimed.

The sun-drenched fields of Bagamoyo are witnessing more than just rice crops; they are witnessing a transformation fueled by knowledge, innovation, and the unwavering dedication of IRRI. As the initiatives ripple across the region, a brighter future for Bagamoyo’s rice industry begins to take shape, one step at a time.