Though at first it mainly served domestic consumption, countries such as the United States and Japan now use it for commercial purposes.
The cultivation of crops alongside the rearing of animals for meat or eggs or milk defines mixed farming. For example, a mixed farm may grow cereal crops such as wheat or rye and also keep cattle, sheep, pigs or poultry. Often the dung from the cattle serves to fertilise the cereal crops. Before horses were commonly used for haulage, many young male cattle on such farms were often not butchered as surplus for meat but castrated and used as bullocks to haul the cart and the plough.
At the age of 21 (five years ago), Monica Mizambwa found herself fascinated by mixed faming where she grows maize and beans on her sisal farm.
Many people in the area were astonished by her being so busy in the farm despite having a good job. By her age, gender, education and occupation it’s rare to find her engaged in agricultural activities.
A mother of one has been a role model in Korogwe District, Tanga Region by focusing on the agriculture that has enabled her to earn a living, as well as run a business.
She is an officer at the Agricultural Marketing Cooperatives (AMCOs) in Korogwe District. Apart from her daily office operations, Monica also uses her after-job hours to work in her four-hectare sisal farm.
It is two years since she got into mixed farming and is now enjoying her sweat due to the harvests she gets from her four-acre farm located in Mkokola village, Magunga Ward, Korogwe District.
According to Monica, she uses creativity to benefit from the land where the sisal is planted along with maize, dried beans and leguminous plants.
“When you do mixed farming on sisal plantations, you are using the land properly because the spaces of planting sisal from one square to another are four metres. And in between the sisal crops you plant seasonal crops-maize, beans or legumes.”
She adds: “So, instead of leaving the land open, you use it to plant other seasonal crops while waiting for the three years of sisal to be ready for harvest.”
“Beans and maize are harvested after three months. So, if you plant long-time crops it is dangerous because its roots go too far and meet the roots of the sisal which also goes away. If the roots of these crops meet in the ground, one of the plants must be affected. Sisal also does not need shade, as its fibres become lighter; it needs a lot of sunlight.
“Remember that at the end of the day what the sisal farmer sells is fibre per kilogram,” she says.
The young and pioneering woman holding a diploma in agriculture, clarifies that mixed farming on sisal plantations takes place within three years after the sisal is planted, noting: “It’s advisable to mix only seasonal crops such as maize, legumes and cotton, but it is important to note that such mixing should be done within the first three years after sisal is planted.”
Outlining some of the mixed farming, Monica says the innovation helps the farmer to enrich the soil especially when she uses legumes as it provides minerals and nutrients necessary for the soil.
Secondly, she said: “Mixed farming helps farmers to reduce labour in weeding as leguminous plants tend to cover soil and thus inhibit weed growth.
“It also helps farmers to be food secure for the crops he grows for the three years he is waiting to start harvesting sisal. Apart from that the farmer is sure to have food and money, so he/she has the money to take care of the farm.”
Monica, who advocates for young people to invest in sisal and mixed farming, says she started engaging in it five years ago after receiving a degree from the Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute (TARI).
According to her, sisal mixed with maize gives a farmer a guarantee to harvest 20 bags of 100kgs per hectare and between 25 bags and 30 bags per hectare.
“For sisal that is under better management, one hectare the farmer is guaranteed to get from 2m/- to 2.5m/- per hectare after all deductions. Remember sisal is harvested twice a year, every six months you harvest it. I am currently a four hectare farm of 10 acres. I started growing sisal in 2016, but I did not start by planting on all four hectares.”
She says; “In 2016 I started by planting two hectares, meaning five acres. I have already started harvesting. The first harvest in 2019 I got 1.2m/- after all deductions.”
“These deductions are the production costs, for example in harvesting we use people, there is the cost of transporting from field to factory, cost of the processing plant and there is the cost of the operating association because we work under the Cooperative which also has its own levies,” she says.
“In the first year harvests, sisal cannot reach a height of 60 centimetres. This maximum is found in the second or third cut. In 2017 I planted one hectare and last year I finished the last planting. I continue to harvest meaning sisal harvests twice a year,” she says, adding:
She adds that sisal does not need a lot of rain, however there are pests that are causing a nuisance but TARI have helped them with pesticides.
“The first year when I mixed maize, I harvested six sacks but did not use the best seeds. The second year I did not plan any more maize, I planted beans, I got eight sacks. In 2019, I mixed maize with the best seeds; I got 15 sacks of maize. Last year I did not grow any more crops and even this year I did not mix because time was tight,” she adds.
“Last year in the first 'cut' of the year I harvested two hectares of sisal and made a profit of 2.13m/-. In short, I am now confident of meeting my family needs and I have done a lot of developmental things from sisal and mixed farming,” she says.
Monica, who is also involved in ginger farming, notes that she was employed as the Korogwe AMCOS Agriculture Officer in 2019. This came after volunteering for three years from 2016, assisting farmers in different corners.