TANZANIA is endowed with plenty of arable land on which over 80 per cent of the population depends.
Although many parts of the country experience favourable weather conditions, crop production contributes only 35 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and the annual growth rate is only 3.8 per cent, according to data from last year's budget.
Food crop production has grown at a rate of 2.8 per cent accounting for 65 per cent of agricultural GDP and cash crop accounts for 20 per cent.
Yet, food and cash crops account for about 70 per cent of rural incomes. This is due to the fact that agricultural production depends largely on unreliable rainfall and is dominated by smallholders who cultivate between 0.9 hectares and 3.0 hectares.
About 70 per cent of land is cultivated by hand hoe, 20 per cent by plough and 10 per cent by tractor. The gross area utilised annually is about 9.5 million hectares, which is only about 10 per cent of the country's surface area.
This means there is still a lot to be done to increase both food and cash crop production, but this can only be done through improved agriculture - that is by applying best agricultural practices.
So, the agricultural sector in the country faces various challenges, such as traditional cultivation methods, dependence on rain-fed agriculture, low input supply, limited technological application and low productivity.
To address these challenges, BRAC Maendeleo Tanzania started an agricultural programme in 2007 under the support of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Under this programme, agricultural extension, agricultural research and development and seed production are implemented to provide modern technologies, improved seeds and other inputs to farmers and increase crop production.
The programme which focuses on capacity building of local farmers through extending crop cultivation and extension education services together with quality inputs supply, is running two projects: Global Poverty Action Fund (GPAF) and Livelihood Enhancement through Agricultural Development (LEAD) financed by DFID.
The objective is to improve efficiency and skills of small to medium holder farmers by exchanging information on improved agricultural practices and developing their knowledge through training on best agricultural practices, the use of quality inputs to increase crop production and incomes.
So, has all this been benefitting small and mediumscale farmers? Christina John is a Dodoma Urban resident and a community agricultural promoter under BRAC Maendeleo Tanzania.
She used to cultivate vegetables and other crops using traditional methods, but after receiving training from BRAC Maendeleo Tanzania, she is now getting more from the same land.
She received training from GPAF Project for five days through which she learned about best agricultural practices, field management and the use of quality seeds.
Now, her production has increased from five to 10 beds and her income from Sh 20,000 per month to Sh 80,000 per month. "I am very happy now after receiving training and agricultural inputs like seed, fertilisers and a sprayer from BRAC Maendeleo Tanzania's GPAF Project.
I advise this organisation to provide also loans to increase production," she says. Rehema Tajiri is also from Dodoma Urban District. She cultivates vegetables such as Amaranth, Chinese, Spinach and crops like maize, sorghum and sunflower. She used to cultivate about 0.4 acre using poor seeds and poor equipment.
She also received training from GPAF Project for five days during which she learned about best agricultural practices, field management and the use of quality seeds. She also received inputs like spray machines, maize seed, vegetables like eggplant Chinese, kale and some fertilisers.
She is now using the new agricultural technology and improved seed varieties, she knows how to manage her own field. She says her income and production have increased after applying what she got from training. She now gets up to Sh 96,000 per month, which was not the case before.
"I am very impressed with GPAF Project. I encourage BRAC Maendeleo Tanzania to continue to provide more training and agricultural inputs," she says. Paulina Samwel from Arumeru District in Arusha Region says she had attended a three-day training programme on best agricultural practices from BRAC Maendeleo Tanzania.
"I didn't know what quality seeds were and I hardly profited from what I was growing at the time, but after training, I know what best agricultural practices are like the use of quality seeds, early weeding and planting and the use of herbicides," she says. She now sells healthy vegetables and earns a living from it.
She is very grateful to GPAF Project for making her improve her farming methods and sharing her knowledge with her fellow farmers. Lailati Kamgisha is a Shinyanga resident.
She says before she came into contact with BRAC Maendeleo Tanzania, she used to grow maize and vegetables like cabbages, Chinese cabbages, but she did not get enough returns worth of what she had invested in.
BRAC Maendeleo Tanzania selected her as a community agricultural promoter and she underwent a five-day training programme on best agricultural practices, field management and the use of quality seeds. This training helped her to know how to grow quality vegetables, use sprayers and fertilisers, which she received for free.
"My plan is to increase land for vegetables, rice and maize and enrol my children to good schools. I thank BRAC Maendeleo Tanzania for what I have achieved so far in agriculture," she says.
Tausi Ramadhani is a Morogoro resident. After she attended training she received vegetable seeds, a sprayer and fertilisers for starting her income generating project. She plans to increase her land for vegetables, rice and maize and send one of her sons to an agricultural college.
"Had I known there was this NGO a long time ago, I could have been very far in farming," she says, thanking BRAC Maendeleo Tanzania for helping her to build capacity.
BRAC Maendeleo Tanzania launched its seed production programme in 2009 to produce reliable and quality seeds for small and medium farming communities and increase their incomes. Foundation seeds have been collected from the National Agriculture Research System (NARS) through trained contract growers by BRAC, agronomists.
The entire seed production has been supervised by Tanzania Official Seed Certification Institute (TOSCI). Produced seeds have been processed through Government Seed Processing Centre (Agricultural Seed Agency) and seeds are packed in quality packets as per TOSCI certification and finally distributed to farmers through BRAC agro-dealers and community agricultural promoters (CAPs).
Key agricultural problems in Tanzania are low productivity and poor returns from crop yields with low production efficiency due to lack of inputs and technical advice, use of traditional seeds with low yield capacity. Only 10 per cent of farmers are using improved seed varieties.
The government provides limited extension services and rural areas are hardly covered by government or other NGO extension services. Most of the land is suitable for agriculture, yet a large number of small and marginal farmers, mostly women, have very low levels of agricultural education and little access to training, technology and input supply to improve production and earn decent livelihoods.
Considering the above problems and to support farmers, BRAC Maendeleo Tanzania has formed 15 community agricultural promoters (CAPs) under every branch offices and given them fiveday training on basic crop cultivation and management. CAPs will help promote new agricultural technologies and avail quality inputs within the village community.
BRAC Agricultural Programme has rapidly expanded to cover more than 70,000 farmers in Tanzania. LEAD project will be for four years starting from April 2013 and it will be operating in 40 branches in 15 regions of Tanzania. It is intended to cover 105,000 direct beneficiaries and provide employment to more than 100 Tanzanian staff.
The goal is to improve household incomes of rural poor, small and marginal farmers and livestock keepers (65 per cent women) in selected sub sectors and geographical areas. BRAC Maendeleo Tanzania is an international nongovernmental Organization (NGO) supporting community development activities across the world. It operates its GPAF Project under 20 branch offices of 15 regions in the country since April 2012.