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In Tanzania, a training programme put forward by a local NGO on the techniques of soil and water conservation has boosted farmers’ productivity.
The round and snow-covered peak of Mount Kilimanjaro is known worldwide. The highest point of Africa at 5,891 metres above sea level has even become a significant source of tourism activity for Tanzania. This is a blessing for this region in the north-east of the country, which has been suffering for several years now from smaller and smaller crop yields. At issue is the erosion of soil, which has gradually transformed a once fertile soil into unattractive fields.
Located on the slopes of Kilimanjaro, the districts of Moshi, Hai, and Rombo have long been known for their productive and diverse agriculture. Between 1,000 and 1,500 metres altitude, you can mainly find coffee, bananas, or fodder trees. Lower down, between 750 and 1,100 metres, farmers grow maize and beans, whereas others raise goats or cows. But over the last few years, finding enough fodder has become almost impossible. So, after the harvests, all of the crop residues – stems, leaves, roots… etc. are recovered in order to feed the animals. This practice strips the land back, which leads to the formation of gullies, especially during periods of heavy rain. This trend not only prevents water from soaking into the deeper layers of the soil, which has repercussions during the dry seasons, but it also speeds up the erosion of the topsoil layer. The implications on productivity are far-reaching.
Improving farming practices
In order to protect this ecosystem that is at risk while still enabling the inhabitants to earn a better living through working the land, Himo Environmental Management Trust Fund has been developing a training programme in the techniques of soil and water conservation for twenty years. This local NGO especially promotes the use of more powerful hearths and kilns in order to reduce consumption of firewood. It also supports restoration works of irrigation canals, which not only prevents a drawn-out transportation of the precious liquid, but also allows run-off water to be retained, thus limiting erosion of the soil. But most importantly, Himo Environmental Management Trust Fund is attempting to increase ancient agricultural practices, by promoting contour line farming, for example. This practice involves farming constantly on sloped land along lines of consistent elevation, and not from top to bottom. This technique makes it possible to conserve rainwater and reduce soil loss.
Increased productivity with protected soil
At the same time, Himo Environmental Management Trust Fund introduces other techniques such as intercropping, the use of crop residues for straw-mulching, crop rotation, or even the creation of terraces in those areas where the slopes are steep. Finally, the Tanzanian ONG actively supports the introduction of new activities that support generating additional income for farmers, such as beekeeping, fish farming, poultry farming, tree growing, or even the production of biogas.
Taking stock of everything, the results of this vast programme are convincing. According to a study published by the Oakland Institute and the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA), ‘‘the productivity of farmers who have adopted conservation techniques has significantly increased.’’ Maize yields have doubled using these methods, whilst those for beans have gone from 0.7 to 1.2 tonnes per hectare. Goats have seen their average milk production go from 0.5 litres per day to 2.5 litres per day. For cows, production has increased from 4 to 7 litres per day. Fertility has come back to the slopes of Kilimanjaro, which is both to the advantage of the region’s inhabitants as well as soil conservation.