Same, a town in Tanzania’s Kilimanjaro region, sits in a basin on the leeward side of the South Pare Mountains.
Dawn has broken and from the compound of my hotel, Nzoroko, I see sunrays pierce though the mountains, forcing the dark morning mist to fade away rapidly.
I am in Same to find out how farmers are able to produce food in semi arid conditions, where annual rainfall can be as low as 400 millimetres.
With my crew, including James Mbiri, Liz Agiro, Dosteus Lopa, Donath Fungu and Bakari the driver, we set off for the villages.
We arrive at the home of a woman farmer, Rizaeli Samueli, in Mwembe village, a little after 9:00am and as soon as I step out of our air conditioned car the real Same welcomes me.
It is hot, windy and dusty. The land is bare; shrubs, rocks and thorny bushes stretch out as far as the eye can see. Every tree or grass is shrinking.
Farming is an uphill task, but, the population must eat. And so they practice agriculture.
At the moment no crop is growing on Rizaeli’s home farm, which is on a slope. It is too dry. She keeps a few cows which are now eating away at dry maize stocks from the previous harvest. They look unbothered by our presence, neither are they concerned about Rizaeli’s creaking wheelbarrow. It is Rizaeli’s duty, after all, to feed them if she is to get any milk out of them.
During this time Risaeli manages another garden in the adjoining valley, a few metres away from her home. With a bit of irrigation from a small stream, her beans and vegetables are growing very well, a sharp contrast to the trees and grasses uphill.
“It is difficult to farm here because of little rains,” Rizaeli tells us. “But we have been taught to do it better so these days we get good yields.”
Rizaeli is one of 63 farmers in this district that were selected by the Global Water Initiative East Africa (GWI EA) to practice soil and water conservation techniques in order to produce more food with less water.
GWI EA refers to the application of these techniques as “Water Smart Agriculture” and Rizaeli is a “Champion Farmer,” a farmer from whom others can learn and adopt these techniques.
In the blazing afternoon heat we drive off to see another farmer, Ali Mrindoko, in Bangalala village.
Mrindoko’s garden is one to behold. Using a technique known as stone terracing, where stone embankments are made for every terrace, Mrindoko is able to keep moisture in his garden for far much longer, to the extent that he can even grow sugarcane, a heavy consumer of water.
“We receive very little rain in this area. Building this stone wall terrace is a big task but the benefits are enormous. I get very good yields. My family cannot starve,” Mrindoko tells us.
Mrindoko and Rizaeli are on steep hills but in terms of altitude, they are much lower compared to Vudee, up in the Pares.
Traveling to Vudee is not for the fainthearted. The road, cut through hard rock, is so narrow, the climb too steep and the bends very sharp. Bakari and Fungu, the GWI EA agronomist covering this area, have been doing this route many times so I imagine they are used to it. To me, sometimes it feels like driving at the edge of a cliff.
Initially, people living in these highlands trekked long distances to the lowlands to farm and went back to the highlands to sleep. This they called seasonal farming.
But now, with better farming techniques and practices, they can use very little of land and water to grow so much. They farm near their homes.
With the help of government farming trainers, and programmes such as GWI EA, farmers have learnt techniques and practices such as bench and stone terracing, crop spacing, planting in rows, mulching, minimum tillage and inter cropping.
We find a group of women planting potatoes at a very steep slope, assisted by a government employed trainer, Ibrahim Ndumbalo.
“We are planting potatoes on terraces. This helps to manage soil erosion, controls nutrient loss and increases the soil’s capacity to trap and retain water,” Ndumbalo tells us.
As evening approaches, we start our descent to Same town. A photo shoot in the town, just for fun, caps our 2-day trip here. It has been a wonderful experience especially for me and James, the Wild Dog crew based in Kampala, Uganda.
William Odinga Balikuddembe
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