*Credits the transformation to AGRA-backed rice initiative
*Assurance of improved seeds availability is still a challenge
*From 12 bags to 28 bags per acre
Understanding the rice value chain and its possibilities of lifting smallholder farmers out of the mire of poverty in the Sumbawanga District has been a game-changer for a cross-section of residents.
According to Mr Exavery Stafeli Mkisi, from Maenge Village, Nilepa Ward in Sumbawanga District, Rukwa Region, improved market-led rice farming knowledge has improved his life.
The village is located in South-West Tanzania, in the South Highlands of Ufipa Plateau, where rice, maize and beans growing as a food crop is a way of life. He says that gaining rice value chain agribusiness knowledge has profoundly changed his world outlook. And created ambitions he had never thought of.
“I never imagined business development services and training about market-centred farming would change my life. It has, and for the best,” says the 33-year-old father of one. He is a small-scale farmer, leader, and a Village Based Advisor turned small business owner.
Mr Exavery credits his transformation to Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) initiative, the Competitive African Rice Initiative in East Africa (CARI-EA), financed by United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by Kilimo Trust. It enabled him to attain business development services training and mentorship.
The initiative was implemented in Southern Highlands, Southwestern, Lake Zone and Zanzibar ( seven regions of Mainland Tanzania-Simiyu, Shinyanga, Morogoro, Mbeya, Iringa, Rukwa and Katavi and Zanzibar (Unguja and Pemba) from April 2019 to April 2022. In Sumbawanga District, Rukwa region, Mr Exavery is happy to identify himself as one of the beneficiaries
“I am one of the farmers reached by the project. In the past, all I ever wanted was to be able to feed my family. Being able to meet their basic necessities was an uphill task. Hand-to-mount life has been the reality of my life and many other villagers,” he says. Do I try agribusiness seriously or not? It was a battle of mind after he underwent agronomy and agribusiness training. The conviction came after seeing the success of demonstration farms that were established.
Before the project, he says that most farmers were harvesting 9 to 12 bags of rice per acre. The harvest was 25 to 28 bags through demonstration plots, where modern best farming technologies were used. It was a huge difference.
Most of the village’s people renting out farmland believed using modern inputs like fertilizers was destructive. “Those using fertilizers could only do so in the dead of night,” he says. If noted, land owners would not rent their farms to such a person. Secondly, buyers did not want rice or maize grown using fertilizer. The demonstration farm greatly changed such mindsets and poor traditional beliefs.
The training also gave him insight into why smallholder farmers working together on common goals were more likely to gain success than working singularly. He called together about six acquaintances, and they formed “Tujiwezeshe, Tuwezeshana Maenge” farmers’ group. The group has five acres of land, they are farming collectively, and each member has a small business.
The Swahili words mean “We empower ourselves, we empower each other.” The group members selected him to be the chairperson. Deliberately, they decide they will be few, work together for a time, and after things have worked out, they can ask other villagers to join them.
“Our dream is to become exemplary rice, sunflower and maize farmers, making credible incomes to improve our lives,” he said. The most prominent challenge farmers face in the village is low incomes. Farming activities, their mainstay, generate little income to afford them a quality life. “Low incomes is one of the biggest challenges in our village. Appreciation of the rice initiative program that improved our crop productivity and market services,” he says.
To overcome the challenge personally, Mr Exavery, after the training, decided to take up the role of volunteer Village Based Advisor (VBA). It helped him gain comprehensive knowledge and experience in agronomy and agribusiness.
“As farmers with little knowledge, we make costly mistakes that make farming ventures unprofitable. I have been there,” he says.
Mr Exavery also opened a small agro-dealer shop, proving pivotal in his income generation and complementing his unpaid role as a VBA. “In the Nalepa Ward, there was only one agro shop; mine is the second. And we are many kilometres apart.
As a VBA, he trains farmers in adopting the best agricultural practices. “I look at how to ensure healthy soils, use improved seeds, land preparations, best use of pesticides and everything in between. It is all about modern crop production to get improved harvests for business. We have a long way to go, but we have started,” he says. Such service to farmers is offered at a free cost however it pushed his sales volume for agricultural products. He has reached out to about 450 farmers by May 2022 as VBA. At the shop, he serves an average of 5 people a day, but in December – February, the number was over 15 every day. From June 2022 he has been serving over 15 people, it is another high season, expected to go to August.
It had taken a lot of effort to convince Mr Exavery to join the initiative, according to Mr Hezron Kalolo, the coordinator of the Sumbawanga Rice Enterprise Project (SURE), the designated consortium for the CARI-EA project in the area. Over 9,000 smallholder farmers were trained by business development services provider Actions for Development Programmes – Mbozi (ADP-Mbozi).
SURE was spearheaded by grain processor- One Goal Company Limited. The company’s managing director Mr Nelson Isack Sumuni, says, his firm was aggregating rice for sale for about 2500 smallholder farmers. We are encouraging them to increase production, while actively seeking to recruit more farmers, he says. The potential is immense and we are encouraging irrigation farming for greater uptake, he notes.
The off-taker has working contracts with 30 farmers’ organizations and has a processing capacity of 60 MT per day, which is not fully utilized.
“After the business development training via the project, more farmers are coming out to support contract farming. About ten new farmers’ organizations have become more organized and empowered,” notes Mr Gibson Thomson Haonga, District Cooperative Officer, Sumbawanga.
He was involved in the project as its part of outreach to the local government, to ensure sustainability. AGRA works to support the government in its endorsers to grow smallholder agriculture into profitable entities.
Mr Haonga, says Mr Exavery was one of the farmers trained and has come to understand that working in the consortium business model in the rice value chain and other crops establishes workable and sustainable market linkages. “Farmers enjoying assured markets produce more quality products. The scenario also perpetuates greater access to finance,” he says.
The realization of the difference between modern and traditional rice cultivation has been profound for farmers. Many farmers revealed they were not using the best seeds and were not following best practices in land preparation, and use of inputs including fertilizers and pesticides.
During land preparations, some farmers were using fire, a practice that has now been stopped at the village leadership level.
Eng. Anna Mwangamilo, Director, Mechanization Division, Ministry of Agriculture, says increased rice sector business has been catalyzed by adopting improved agriculture- use of improved seeds and other modern inputs as well as the assured market.
In the case of CARI-EA arrangements, the smallholder farmers were empowered with inputs and assured of the market, thanks to the consortium business model. Countrywide, the model pooled together 12 rice business consortia. Over 150,000 smallholder farmers were empowered with a work package on private-led extension, market facilitation, post-harvest reduction, and access to finance, with deliberate intervention on women and youth for inclusivity.