Tanzania – When rain does fall, this champion farmer in same district knows what to do
Rizaeli Samueli Mjema is a “champion farmer” under CARE Tanzania’s Global Water Initiative and Where the Rain Falls project. She lives on her small farm in the village of Mwembe in Same District, Kilimanjaro. In addition to serving as a model for other farmers in her community, demonstrating the benefits of adopting improved soil and water conservation practices in her fields, she also maintains a small “weather station” on her farm, recording rainfall on a daily basis.
In February 2014, when the CARE team visited her farm, the field was bare, ready for planting. In the days before the visit, there were three days of heavy rain, which was unusual since the long rainy season, known locally as masika, normally does not begin until March. Thanks to the fanya juu terraces that she had established on her farm, soil erosion was minimized and moisture retention in her fields was maximized, which is important in a place like Same District, where the average annual rainfall is only 560mm (22 inches). Shortly after our February visit, Rizaeli planted most of her farm in sorghum.
When we returned in early May, we found her with a very healthy stand of sorghum and high hopes for a successful harvest in late June. We also consulted the book in which she records rainfall to correlate the crops in her field with the quantity and pattern of rainfall between our two visits. We found the total amount of rainfall during the months of February, March and April, and through May 8 was 307mm. Although this total would be considered normal for the masika season in Mwembe, the pattern of rainfall was equally important. Although the rains started early and February had the highest (143mm) monthly total, farmers planted early and sufficient rain was received in March (70mm) and April (87mm) to sustain the crops, with dry periods during the season not exceeding 7-10 days. The total number of days with measurable rainfall during the season. Intererstingly, Rizaeli and her fellow farmers also reported an unusual event this season, with one heavy rainfall having a dark color and strange odor. Neither they nor the government extension worker could explain this event.
In the coming months, most of the farmers in Mwembe and other villages in Same District are hopeful for a good harvest, given the normal rains received since February. Few farmers, however, have comparably healthy crops and can expect the sort of yields that Rizaeli and other champion farmers who have adopted improved soil and water conservation practices in their fields. Rizaeli’s main concern at this stage is keeping away birds from her maturing sorghum group, which she addresses by getting the help of children in the village who make noise to scare away the birds. CARE staff will document the performance of Rizaeli and other champion farmers at harvest time to compare with other farmers who have not adopted improved practices and report our findings later in the year.
By Kevin Henry