COTTON farmers in Mara Region have, through contract farming that was introduced in the region some five years ago, doubled output.
A Butiama-based cotton grower, Mr Raphael Lugeji, says after attending a first meeting on the introduction of contract farming in the 2008/09 crop season, he was now harvesting twice the amount of produce he used to get before the system.
Tanzania Cotton Board (TCB) partnered with TechnoServe and Badugu Ginnery to promote and execute contract farming in the region's cotton growing districts - Butiama, Musoma Rural, Bunda ad Serengeti.
Mr Lugeji says after attending the meeting at Tegeruka village, he was among the first to form and join a Farmers Business Group (FBG) and cultivate two acres to test whether he would really receive inputs on credit. He did receive the inputs, as promised.
He was highly motivated by the inputs and asked to compare contract farming with the cooperative group he used to belong to, he preferred contract farming. Basically, contract farming refers to an agricultural production carried out according to an agreement between a buyer and producer.
The agreement establishes conditions for production and marketing of cotton, with buyers providing farmers with loans for purchase of farm inputs - seeds and pesticides as well as technical advice. Farmers too are obliged to sell their produce to the companies that supplied inputs.
Inputs on credit and training on best agricultural practices by TechnoServe helped to transform Mr Lugeji's farming practices, leading to almost doubling of output to 850 kilogrammes per acre in the first year from 400kgs.
Technoserve, through trainings on commercialising farming, assists cotton farmers to understand how best to estimate and control production costs.
In 2009/2010 crop season, Mr Lugeji says, having gained confidence on the new farming system, increased acreage to four acres, with yields rising to 1,110 kilogrammes per acre.
He won the district price of an ox-plough as the best farmer in his village. From the increased income, Mr Lugeji has constructed a new house and remains an ardent supporter of the farming system through his FBG.
"Contract Farming has changed our lives," says Mrs Nzega Lugeji: "We started growing cotton in 2011 after my husband had suggested as a result of a sensitisation meetings he attended."
Mrs Lugeji concedes that, "We had never thought of growing cotton before. But, through such explanations from my husband, I was convinced and advised that we start with a small plot (one acre) on which we used to plant maize. "In that first year, we harvested 795 kilogrammes.
It was really a trial because we were assured of inputs and market," she says, explaining how she had seen people struggling with poor quality cotton seeds, poor production techniques and ineffective pesticides. "They ended up with low earnings due to poor yields... this discouraged us from growing cotton."
The Lugejis joined the Nguvukazi FBG, with 27 members, six of them women. With the training support from TechnoServe and village extension officer, the couple prepared the farm and plant seeds as per expert recommendation.
The family spends the earnings accrued from cotton sales on buying food and footing other essential expenses for the family, according to Mrs Lugeji: "Buying food for the family is our number one priority... we thank God for contract farming, it has saved us out of poverty."
The Lugeji's is just one of thousand of cotton farmers in major growing areas enjoying the fruits of contract farming. Bunda District Cotton Inspector Igore Manonga says since the introduction of cotton farming in the district, productivity has increased from between 250 and 300 kilogrammes per acre to an average of between 300 and 600 kgs per acre in 2010.
The same applies to Butiama District where farmers are now producing between 500 and 800kgs per acre as opposed to the previous average of 250kg. Butiama Cotton Inspector Alphone Ngewagale says some farmers produce up to 1,000 kilogrammes per acre.
"An increase in production helps farmers to earn more even in cases of falling cotton prices," Mr Ngewagale says, citing the 2011/2012 marketing season when prices dropped from 1,100/- to 800/- per kilogramme within the season.
At the time, contract farming, which had been piloted in some parts of Mara Region since 2008, had been extended to the entire Western growing zone of 26 districts. Despite the unexpectedly price fall farmers were able to minimise losses through increased productivity per acre.