Rice is a major staple food and a mainstay for the rural population and their food security, and is one of main food and cash crops cultivated by both medium and small-scale farmers.
According to reports, farmers have spent a lot of money on modern farming inputs with hopes of doubling harvests but at the end of the day, they end up counting losses.
To address the situation, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), through funding from the European Union (EU), has supported a number of rice farmers in the districts of Kilosa and Mbarali in Morogoro and Mbeya regions, respectively, by equipping them with knowledge and skills on system of rice intensification technology (SRI) to transform their farming practices and earning more income.
SRI is a rice farming method that uses less water and fewer seeds while adhering to best agricultural practices such as timely ploughing and transplanting seedlings within eight to 12 days from the nursery, enabling the farmer to achieve higher yield than traditional farming.
Through the implementation of a five- year project titled “Multilateral Environmental Agreements in Africa, Caribbean and Pacific Countries – Phase III (ACP MEAs 3), FAO aims to promote environmental sustainability integrated approaches to address national biodiversity-related priorities and commitments in agriculture, as well as the restoration of degraded ecosystems.
Farmers in the two districts commend FAO for training them on the SRI farming technology, asserting that it has increased crop productivity and resilience to climate change threats.
As a learning approach, the project employs Farmer Field Schools with farmer groups to demonstrate SRI farming technology and good agricultural practices. The project supported the Mshikamano-Umoja Farmers Group in Kilosa district, where one of their members, Esther Mchimu, a resident of Mgogozi village, adopted the SRI farming technology after witnessing a bumper harvest from the pilot plot.
Esther, a mother of seven, had been farming for nearly 30 years but was only getting a few harvests due to a lack of skills, tools and needed support.
“I was only harvesting 12 bags of 100kg per acre before, but with the new technology I harvest up to 25 bags per acre,” said Mchimu. “This transformation has helped me a lot considering I am taking care of the children alone since my husband passed away,” she said.
She went on to say that last year she harvested 30 bags of rice from one acre, up from 10 bags. She uses fewer seeds with the SRI farming technology than with traditional farming methods, and has seen an increase in her income.
Another farmer from Mgogozi village and group member, Anyesi Lyambulilo, explained that she is pleased with the training provided to her and other farmers in the village on the new rice farming technology, which pays them a lot.
She went on to explain t that because most of farmers have changed their methods of growing rice and managing water and soils, rice production has increased
Anyesi, a lead farmer, says that after receiving training on SRI farming technology from the model farm that was established within their irrigation scheme, she decided to adopt and has planted in her quarter-acre plot.
Farmers in Malolo village have also benefited from the project. “I used the money that was meant for the farm to renovate my house, pay for my children's education, and buy food for the family,” said Bertha Ngalela. “The SRI farming technology has come has saved us, and we are grateful to FAO and the government for training us on how to engage in this kind of farming,” she said. Bertha, on the other hand, stated that there were still a number of farmers who rely on traditional rain fed agriculture using little inputs, resulting in lower yields and productivity.
Another farmer, Shemu Malila from Kapunga village in Mbarali district explained that through training, he now understands the farming procedures and can earn more.
He says that the SRI farming technology requires the farmer to follow expert advice in order to achieve great results.
“Me and my many other fellow farmers here at the village are now aware of all procedures to follow, including nursery preparation, planting, application of fertilisers, weeding, and integrated pest management using recommended pesticides and other methods,” said Shemu. “I encourage other farmers to use the SRI farming technology because it uses fewer seeds, only 5 kilogram on one acre, whereas other types of cultivation use 15-20 kg of seeds per acre,” he said.
The SRI farming technology has attracted many unemployed women and the youth, as well as those who have migrated to urban centres and major cities, back into agriculture.
According to Diomedes Kalisa, FAO Programme Officer and ACP MEAs 3 Project Coordinator, a number of efforts are being implemented to support rice farmers to change from traditional farming that affects their progress.
“With the SRI farming technology, many farmers have been able to increase their rice production from one acre to more than two acres in a single agricultural season, demonstrating greater resilience to climate change shocks than they would have with traditional farming methods,” said Kalisa. “Through this initiative, FAO has trained a number of farmers on SRI farming technology, which provides benefits even after being hit with harsh weather conditions,” he said.