Surita and Getruda talking to group members in Chilimba village
Pathways Tanzania hosted Surita Sandosham of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for three days of field visits and meetings with staff and partners.
In Mwandila village, Nachingwea district, amidst a lush green crop of cassava and sesame in their Farmer Field and Business School (FFBS) plot, members of the Jitegemee and Kasi Mpya groups have gathered to talk about what they are learning.
“Before, we did not plant our crops in rows, we just broadcasted. This caused a lot of difficulties during weeding and the crop would be very unhealthy. We see a huge difference between the crops in this plot compared to the crops in our own fields. We have learnt new ways or planting, using proper spacing and thinning the plants so that there is no competition for nutrients,” Says Hibija Abdalla from the Kasi Mpya group
The FFBS plot in Mwandila is a common plot managed by members of nine groups, most of whom are women. Every week, the group members meet to learn about improved methods of farming. They have received new and improved varieties of cassava that are resistant to the diseases responsible for massive reduction of yields in the crop, the Cassava Mosaic Virus and the Cassava Brown Streak Disease. The variety they are testing also matures much faster than their local varieties, reaching maturity in just over five months, compared to eight months for the local varieties. The farmers are also learning new techniques of intercropping cassava with legume crops such as cowpeas, pigeon peas and groundnuts, which are essential for household nutrition. These groups are a critical link to the rest of the villages and will supply much needed new seed to their fellow farmers for the coming seasons. Currently there are 37 farmer field and business schools in the two districts where the program is operating.
A field of Cassava
and cow pea intercrop
In the neighboring district of Masasi, in Chilimba village, we meet with six groups, one of them a Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA). They express what the CARE program means to them in song and dance. The women are very excited about the potential for the program to address gender relations and improve the rights of women to land and other resources in addition to increasing productivity and market access for the major crops they are growing.
Across all the villages and groups we visit, the challenges are the same; lack of access to improved inputs, women are overburdened with both production and household activities and do not always enjoy the benefits from their labor, there is no market information and the few traders that come to the villages purchase the produce at low prices. They see the potential for the program to address these challenges. The program is working around six core areas; strengthening collectives, increasing productivity through sustainable agriculture, value chain development and market access, increasing access to technologies and new innovations, engaging men and boys to achieve gender equality and building evidence of impact.
Row planting of sesame
Mr Mochiwa, the District Agricultural Extension Officer for Masasi who has been involved in the program explains to the farmers, “This program has added an impetus to what we are doing. It’s a long term program through which we will address some of the issues you raise in a systematic way from production, to marketing and to how we improve ourselves at household, village and district level. ‘
The program is a critical element of the district development plans in the two districts of Nachingwea and Masasi which is useful for its scaling beyond the current operational areas. In Nachingwea, the District Agriculture Officer, Mr. Raphael Ajetu, acknowledges the program has added a lot of value to their current programs “With the few resources we have at the District level, we had prioritized sesame but have not had a lot of resources to support many farmers. With the Pathways program, we have been able to add a few more crops to our priorities such as Cassava and to reach many groups of farmers”
Surita is impressed with the progress that the program has made so far; “I am particularly impressed by the level of engagement and dialogue I see between the CARE staff, the extension workers and the farmer groups. I am very optimistic that the program will achieve its objectives of empowering these women smallholder farmers and increasing the productivity and profitability of their agriculture”
In the spirit of the real time learning philosophy of the FFBS, we conclude the field visit with training for the village extension workers and farmer volunteers (para-professionals) on pest and disease management. The village extension agents and the para-professionals are the regular linkage with farmer groups on the ground and strengthening their capacity in technical and facilitation skills is crucial.
At a wrap up meeting at the end of the visit, the passion and commitment of the Pathways Tanzania team to the success of the program and to making the lives of the communities they work with better is evident. Each of them articulates their vision of the core areas the program is engaging with, from markets, to productivity, to gender equality.
Surita talking to group members