Changing lives for smallholder farmers in Tanzania
Farming in Tanzania is helping to grow, feed and save generations of people
Better known as ‘Mzee Kidevu’, which loosely translated means ‘Mr. Chin’, 63- year-old Fulbert Fulko Pesambili has been a farmer since his early teens, working with his family on the steep, green terrain of Matimira village, in the southern highlands of Tanzania.
“When I was young, I would often help my parents with farm chores before and after school,” says Fulbert. “That was fifty years ago. It was a lot different back then. We had a hard time getting good seeds and fertilizers, and our yields were often low.”
Fulbert eventually moved to the bustling commercial capital of Dar es Salaam, 935 kilometers away from home. For the next 25 years Fulbert worked various jobs as a driver, most often driving buses. It was during this time, in Dar es Salaam where he met Bahati, his wife.
“When I first saw him, I knew I wanted to be his wife,” says Bahati. “I could just tell that he would be a great husband.”
The couple started a new life together and had seven children, five girls and two boys. They were happy in Dar es Salaam, but Fulbert felt a pull to move back to Matimira to take up the family trade of farming. In 2001, Fulbert and his wife moved back to his father’s home village with their two youngest children, who are now studying at the nearby primary school.
“My goal is for my children to do well, have a good education and all they need to start their own lives,” says Fulbert. “It took courage to leave a career of 25 years, but I knew that investing in my farm would secure all my children’s future.”
As members of the 290-strong local farmers organization MAMLI, Fulbert and Bahati receive support from the World Food Programme (WFP) to overcome the challenges that smallholder farmers in Tanzania are facing at each stage of the value chain. Accessing finance and fertilizers, managing post-harvest losses — which can reach up to 40 percent — and getting their products to the market, are areas that need to be tackled every day.
“In previous years, before working with WFP, farming was much more difficult,” said Bahati. “We had to search all over to find fertilizers and good seeds.”
Through WFP’s support, the couple have accessed fertilizer and seeds through pre-planting and affordable loans and also participated in various trainings on good agriculture practices to reduce post-harvest losses. The couple, who farm their various plots together, also took advantage of WFP’s linkage to post-harvest equipment through the private sector. They now utilize hermetically sealed bags and a 500-liter silo that allows them to securely store their harvest for either personal use or to sell when the market price is right.
Before receiving support, they normally harvested five to eight 100-kilo bags of maize per acre. Over three years, this gradually increased to 25 bags in the 2017/18 season. The family reinvested their increased profits into livestock and now have three cows, six goats and 17 chickens. They also purchased a power tiller and are building a new addition to their house to include a bathroom and kitchen.
The family has been able to stay up to date on school fees and in purchasing school supplies. The two children living at home, Flaviana and Petro, are focused on finishing their primary school studies. Petro wants to be a lawyer when he grows up and Flaviana, who recently found out that she passed the national exams with the highest score in the district, wants to be a doctor.
After visiting Fulbert and Bahati at their home in July 2018, WFP’s Executive Director, David Beasley, said: “We have to make sure smallholder farmers have the tools to feed a growing population. If you don’t have food security, you can’t have economic security.”
74 percent of rural Tanzanians are engaged in agriculture today, but agriculture only constitutes 28.4 percent of the country’s GDP. WFP works with the Government, NGOs and private sector to help smallholder farmers transition from subsistence farming to farming as a business. The support includes help to access quality inputs, predictable markets and affordable finance while providing advice on good agricultural practices, reducing post-harvest losses and addressing climate change.
This article originally appeared in Tanzania’s The Guardian on 16 October 2018