For 15 years, Rajabu Mjingo, 55, owned two acres of land, which lay idle and unproductive. The land is positioned on a slope, which created a harsh environment for farming, and he did not know how to handle this region. He focused his efforts solely on the piece of land immediately surrounding his home – which was relatively flat – to grow maize and beans.
His fortunes changed two years ago, when he was chosen as the farmer from the Same district, Tanzania, and was one of more than 60 champion farmers GWI EA selected to undergo training on how to increase their production and crop yields. The soil and water conservation techniques they learned included mulching, terracing, rainwater harvesting, plant spacing and planting in rows, number of seeds per hole, double digging, minimum tillage and cover cropping. In an area that receives a minimum of 400mm of rainfall a year, retaining soil moisture is key.
Shortly after the training, drought struck Same district. However, with his new found knowledge, Mjingo constructed bench terraces on his steep plot of land and planted maize. A majority of the farmers in his region failed to grow any crops that season, which caused food shortage in their households. They had to find alternative sources of food. Mjingo, on the other hand, harvested 5 bags of maize, each weighing 100kg.
When he saw the benefits of the bench terraces, Mjingo decided to expand his area of cultivation from half an acre to one acre of land. He plans to cover all three and a half acres with terraces by the end of the year. With the terraces done, he concentrated on the agronomy practices of spacing, mulching, composting, planting in rows and minimising the number of seeds per hole. The result: healthy ears of maize.
Last year, he planted beans on 5 terraces and reaped 4 tins of 20kg each, he kept one tin for home consumption and sold the rest at Tsh20,000 ($11) each. From this, he earned a total of Tsh60,000 ($33).
“Beans are profitable. My cost of production was kept to a minimum because I used family labour,” says the former Bangalala village chairman.
“It’s the dry season and the ndiva (water dam) is dry. I planted stuka maize variety which is commonly used during the short rains period because it’s relatively drought resistant,” he says, adding, “Although the lack of rains has affected the quality and quantity of yields, there has been a big change because of the practices I applied.”
Further evidence of benefits he’s reaping is found in the fact that Mjingo used to cultivate 5 acres of maize and reap only 3 bags of maize. Today, he’s confident that if he constructed more bench terraces on 2 acres of land, he would get enough food to take him through the year.
There’s no doubt Mjingo will continue practising the techniques he learned. “An NGO that operated in Same provided food in exchange for the amount of work done on the farms, which bred laziness and dependency,” he says, “GWI, on the other hand, provided training on the techniques we could apply to improve our yield. The follow up was very strong and advising was done to limit mistakes. This has strengthened the community. By putting effort and commitment, we have seen the benefits of the terraces,” he adds.
He vows to pass on the knowledge to other farmers until he can no longer do so.
GWI EA, Uganda