A different future for girls through sustainable rice growing

A different future for girls through sustainable rice growing


Before rice farming, most girls were married off at an early age in Babati. Rice farming exposed the Babati population to knowledge through education. This exposure was a starting point for woman empowerment in Babati, education for girls and financial security for rice growing mothers that trickled down to their daughters. "I am one of them, first as a daughter and now as a mother,” says Mary Temu, Magugu Ward extension officer in Babati.

In 1994, Mary got a chance to study at Kilimanjaro Agriculture Training Center (KATC) to attain a rice cultivation certificate. After the training she joined the District Agriculture Irrigation and Cooperative Office (DAICO) as an extension officer and has been ever since. Having started off with supervising three farmers, the numbers have since increased, her responsibility growing with them.

Mary goes on with her work with a zeal and energy that is magnetic - she is patient with farmers who walk up to her, catching her amid conversations, which she excuses herself from and listens before advising. She considers it her responsibility to keep the rice schemes free of any sort of unwanted encroachment and on one of our field visits, we came across cow herders with no regard for the gazetted irrigation schemes. Mary rounded them up so fast and had them at the local council for accountability in minutes.

A field trip turned administrative and political in a span of hours. Whereas the role of extension officers in the field is always behind the scenes, Mary’s is different. For the last 23 years as an extension officer in Babati, she has built herself a reputation as the go to person for farmers, who refer to her warmly to as Mama mkulima - a pet name which directly translates as mother to farmers that she relishes.

“With eighty percent of the total Babati population practicing rice farming, the shift in lifestyles is impressive. Most farmers have been able to buy cars and tractors for their own farming purposes,”

Mary Temu Magugu Ward extension officer in Babati.

Since partnering with Rikolto, DAICO’s team has given training to farmers on Magugu, rice seed purification and rice quality management, post-harvest handling to reduce post-harvest losses, nutrient use efficiency through soil analysis tests to ascertain what exactly farmers should plant, when and where and the amount of nutrients required for them.

It has also carried out a mandatory Integrated Pest Management (IPM), harvesting and post-harvest requirements, quality and standards and Good milling practices training with support of the Tanzania Agriculture Research Institute (TARI) Kilimanjaro Agricultural Training Center (KATC) and Rice council of Tanzania. These trainings have been successful, leading to an increase in production.

As part of this partnership, Mary has been involved in the recently released seasonal calendar drawn to assist farmers in aligning their rice growing activities. The calendar solves one of biggest challenges between farmers and extension officers - coordination. It helps with:

  • Collective facilitation and farm visits from extension officers like Mary for effective utilization of resources, which lays a foundation for sustainable rice production that Rikolto is advocating for.

  • Aligning of farmers’ different outlooks on when to plant, what to plant and so on, which was previously difficult to achieve and thus creating overlaps in the process. Whereas some farmers would be sowing, others would be weeding and more harvesting etc. This confusion at the growing stage affected the whole value chain process.

  • All farmers accessing help at the same time in case of a pest attack on a paddy field at a particular stage.

  • Reducing machinery costs at the harvesting stage through combined harvesting shared among farmers.

  • Water utilization management by aligning canals and thus reducing water wastage.

  • The road infrastructure challenge around the rice farming schemes. Due to unpredictable heavy rains, sometimes the roads are flooded and impassable making individual farmer visits expensive, unreliable and almost impossible. Cropping calendar increases collective access to inputs, services and linkage to markets.

Muungano rice scheme, comprising of 1600 acres and cultivated for a single season a year, on average produces 1920 tons per year of paddy with an approximate of a ton and a quarter per acre (1.2 * 1600). On the other hand, the more preferred (due to location proximity) Mkombozi rice scheme comprising of 450 acres is cultivated for two seasons, one long (Dec – Jun) and one short (Oct – Feb), producing on average 1000 tons of paddy per season. Combined, almost 3000 tons of paddy are produced in Babati’s rice schemes, a sixth of the total production for rice in the Magugu ward for the 2018 – 2019 year (17,281 tons).

Discover how Rikolto contribute to a sustainable rice for all

Production up, yet challenges remain

“We will keep giving trainings to farmers and making efforts to equip them with knowledge on how they can resolve challenges”
Djalou Franco Bangwe Senior Agribusiness Advisor of Rikolto

Of the rice produced, 80% is converted into rice and 20% unfortunately lost in post-harvest handling processing – a challenge still. Also, the challenges are not limited to post harvest losses but also lack of farmer awareness on packaging, market access and minimal capital means. The capital issue affects their capability to harvest the paddy themselves, leaving them to opt for selloffs to middlemen who take advantage of their desperate situation and dictate unfair market prices.

The farmers are in a powerless position and as long as they manage a sale or barter for other commodities such as maize (20 bags of maize for 10 of paddy), they sell. These sales are mainly based on traditional per bag unit of measure instead of the commercial unit of weight, kilograms.

Rikolto has launched an awareness campaign and is encouraging farmers to sell in kilograms as opposed to selling their paddy in bags, which undercuts their revenue and bargaining power, and to invest in a collective fund to buy milling machines and process the paddy themselves. This would wean them off middlemen who undercut the value of their produce. More challenges include the following:

  • Lack of enough human resources in form of extension officers by the government to reach out and support the over 39,000 rice farmers in Babati and effectively cover the 47 villages in the Babati ward.

  • Slow adaptation of Good Agricultural Practices and sustainable rice cultivation practices due to financial challenges that farmers face. Even with willingness on their part, they are still unable to afford most of the inputs, especially better varieties.

  • There are also fluctuations of prices on the market for the paddy. Most prices are dictated by middlemen who come in from the bigger cities and find farmers strapped for money and offer them bad deals that farmers still desperately take. Towards the harvest period, most farmers have spent a lot of their capital on sowing, weeding etc. and are willing to take any offer, however unfair - as low as 40,000 Tanzania Shillings for a 75kg bag. Anything at time of harvest seems acceptable to paddy farmers strapped for cash with impending costs of living such as school fees for their children.

  • There are logistic challenges for extension officers to effectively cover more than one village. Most are covering three to four villages and are stretched thin.

Mary is hopeful and thinks that with continuous efforts from all stakeholders and partners like Rikolto, there is a light at the end of the tunnel for these challenges.

We are sitting in Mary’s living room for part of the interview, in a house she dreamed of as a young girl, as she narrates her extension officer work and the growth that has preceded it. There’s pride gleaming her face – a face that has endured harsh field sunshine but persevered because of the bigger picture. A teary layer covers her deep-set eyes briefly, before it dissipates. Her lips curl up into a smile as we walk outside into the evening sun.

Author&editor: Sandra Kabongoyi


Djalou Franco
Djalou Franco
Rice Senior Agribusiness Advisor-Mbeya,Tanzania