Study: Tanzanian Sorghum Farmers Report Higher Dietary Diversity with New Seed Varieties

By Neema Munisi, agribusiness expert

One of the most underappreciated grains in Tanzania is the sorghum. Known for its resilience and adaptability, this grain has been a staple for generations. Yet, the age-old practices of farming, coupled with traditional seed varieties, often limit the potential of what the crop can offer. However, a groundbreaking study led by Aloyce R. Kaliba throws light on the significant impact adopting improved seeds can have on dietary diversity in Tanzania.

The study is titled ” Impact of Adopting Improved Seeds on Access to Broader Food Groups Among Small-Scale Sorghum Producers in Tanzania” by Dr Aloyce R. Kaliba, Dr Anne G. Gongwe, Dr Kizito Mazvimavi, and Dr Ashagre Yigletu, SAGE OpenVolume 11, Issue 1, January-March 2021.

Seeds of Change

It begins at the seed level. As simple as it sounds, the type of seed planted can determine the yield, resistance to pests, and even nutritional value of the crops. Kaliba and his team decided to focus on the ‘improved seeds’ – genetically enhanced to offer better outcomes. These seeds aren’t just created in isolation. They are a product of rigorous research, understanding regional agricultural challenges, and then tailoring solutions that address these challenges at the grassroots level.

The question, however, lingered: Would the introduction of these improved seeds translate to real-world benefits for the small-scale sorghum producers in Tanzania?

Methodological Mastery

To find the answer, Kaliba’s team embarked on a meticulously crafted research journey. At its core were observational studies, imperative for situations where randomized controlled trials are not feasible. By employing advanced techniques like the Inverse Probability Treatment Weighting (IPW) and IPW with Regression Adjustment (IPWRA), the team ensured a robust approach that minimized biases and gave accurate results.

The results were measured using two principal indicators: the Household Dietary Diversity Scores (HDDS) and the Women Dietary Diversity Scores (WDDS). These measures not only gauged the quantity of food available but also the quality, emphasizing both general food access and its nutritional adequacy.

Findings that Matter

The study highlighted stark regional disparities. The Kilimanjaro Region, for instance, exhibited the highest scores for both HDDS and WDDS, signaling better dietary diversity. In contrast, the Shinyanga Region recorded the lowest, pointing towards a pressing need for agricultural interventions.

However, the crux of the study was the tangible impact of improved seeds. Adopters of these seeds saw a statistically significant increase in both HDDS and WDDS. Even more remarkable was that these improvements were not limited to a specific group. Marginalized sections, like female farmers who often face agricultural disparities, benefited from the adoption, showcasing the inclusivity of the intervention.

Beyond Numbers

While the study was grounded in empirical evidence, the implications were far-reaching. The seemingly minor increase in dietary scores depicted a broader narrative. Tanzania, like many African nations, grapples with limited access to a diverse range of food items. Any intervention, even if it results in a minor positive shift, can translate to substantial real-world benefits. For the everyday Tanzanian farmer, it could mean better nutrition for their family, enhanced income from surplus produce, and an overall improved quality of life.

Building on the Findings

One of the standout recommendations from the study was the necessity of institutional support. Improved seeds, though potent, can’t bring change in isolation. Farmers need access to these seeds, training on best practices, and insights into potential risks and benefits. Herein lies the crucial role of extension services, advisory councils, and other such institutional mechanisms.

Moreover, Kaliba’s research underscores the indispensable role of a strong bond between research, on-ground extension work, and policy-making. A synergy among these stakeholders can amplify the impact, ensuring that innovations from the lab seamlessly integrate into the fields.

For this underrated grain, the findings of Aloyce R. Kaliba and team provides a roadmap. The journey ahead isn’t just about improved seeds but an inclusive agricultural framework that addresses regional disparities, empowers marginalized groups, and fosters a synergy between research, extension, and policy-making.

With improved seeds in their arsenal and the insights from this study, Tanzanian farmers can write a new chapter in their agricultural saga. One where every grain sown not only nourishes the body but also nourishes hopes for a brighter, more prosperous future.

According to Dr. Joel L. Meliyo, the Principal Agricultural Research Officer (PARO) at Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute (TARI), one of his latest recommendation? To pivot from the traditional maize farming to the drought-resistant and economically promising sorghum, especially in semi-arid zones like Dodoma.

Positioned at the forefront of soil research, Dr. Meliyo is no stranger to the challenges faced by Tanzanian farmers. From his office at TARI, located in the heart of Dodoma, he has been delving into soil fertility management, particularly focusing on the reclamation of salt-affected soils and the management of acidic soils. His expertise in using gypsum and other materials for salt management, coupled with calcium carbonate for addressing acid soils, has positioned him as a trusted voice in the field.

“The agronomic and economic potential of sorghum is undeniable, and it’s high time our farmers recognize and harness its advantages,” Dr. Meliyo explains, his statements gaining further weight given his prominent role at TARI.

His advocacy dovetails with a recent study led by Aloyce R. Kaliba, which noted a marked improvement in dietary diversity in households that transitioned to improved sorghum seeds. These research-backed findings, combined with Dr. Meliyo’s on-ground expertise, weave a compelling narrative for a sorghum-centered agricultural future for Tanzania.

Maize, though a staple, struggles in Dodoma’s dry conditions, yielding around a ton per hectare. Sorghum, with its remarkable resilience, promises up to double that amount. Its dietary benefits, boasting higher levels of protein, fiber, and iron, further elevate its status as a worthy alternative.

But it’s not just about yield and nutrition. It’s also about sustainability. “Sorghum requires significantly less fertilizer and pesticides. This isn’t just an economic advantage but a testament to its environmentally friendly nature,” Dr. Meliyo adds.

With climate change intensifying and making rainfall patterns increasingly unpredictable, sorghum’s drought-resistant properties become even more invaluable.

+++Neema Munisi is a leading expert in agribusiness and gender-focused food systems. She is also a trainer on business-related topics. For consultancy, write to her. Email: