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COP26 dialogue looks at how sorghum can build Tanzanian farmers' climate resilience

26 October 2021

COP26 dialogue looks at how sorghum can build Tanzanian farmers' climate resilience

The COP26 climate conference in Glasgow means the world’s eyes are sharply focused on the climate emergency.

It’s an emergency that poses the greatest threat to those who have done the least to cause it, such as smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, where an increasingly volatile climate is cutting yields and endangering food security.

In the run-up to COP26, Farm Africa took part in the Fork To Farm dialogues, organised by Nourish Scotland, to showcase the stories of farmers in sub-Saharan Africa living under the shadow of climate change.

Farm Africa convened two local dialogues in the districts of Kongwa and Bahi in the dry region of Dodoma in Tanzania, where the majority of the population works in farming and relies on rainfall to feed livestock and grow crops.

The dialogues, which were held in July 2021, focused on the opportunities and challenges for women and young people in promoting the efficient and sustainable production and marketing of sorghum, a drought-tolerant crop that is better suited to the region’s increasingly erratic rainfall than maize, the staple crop traditionally grown in Dodoma.

Background

Sorghum is a crop grown by smallholder farmers in Tanzania for food and as a cash crop. Sorghum is used to make the Tanzanian national dish of ugali, a stiff porridge served with beans, vegetables or meat, as well as being used in brewing.

Sorghum grows best at temperatures between 25 and 33°C where rainfall is 300-800 mm per year. As a household staple among smallholder farming families, sorghum is a key food security crop for Tanzania and the Dodoma region in particular due to the erratic rainfall patterns there.

Sorghum

Due to semi-arid climatic conditions and economic factors in the central part of Tanzania, sorghum has recently become an alternative crop to the traditional staple crop of maize for Dodoma. However, since its launch in 2018 and despite rapid increase in its population, Dodoma City Council has banned cultivation of permanent crops including sorghum[1]. This has pushed agricultural activities towards the remaining districts of Dodoma region including Kongwa, Bahi, Chamwino, Mpwapwa, Kondoa and Chemba.

Farm Africa, with funding from the World Food Programme, works with 15,000+ smallholder farmers within 200+ farmer organisations to increase their access to agricultural markets and resilience to climate change.

The project focuses on improving food security and nutrition through improved productivity and incomes by supporting smallholder farmers to improve access to profitable markets by:

  • helping sorghum farmers switch to improved varieties of sorghum that are more tolerant of climate extremes and adopt production practices suited to the changing climate
  • coordinating contract farming for around 4,000 farmers to a large brewery company
  • improving access to climate-smart agricultural services and weather forecasts from the Tanzania Meteorological Agency
  • linking farmers to banks, input suppliers and agro-dealers able to supply high-quality inputs
  • increasing access to household and community storage infrastructure in order to reduce post-harvest losses and improve the quality of produce
  • supporting quality declared seed production.

Dialogue findings

A total of 56 people participated in the two dialogues including farmers, 10 representatives from local government. Representatives from the NMB Bank and buyers from Kibaigwa Company Limited, the middlemen for Tanzania Breweries Limited (TBL), also participated.

The dialogue centred on opportunities in the sorghum value chain for men, women and young people at the local government, buyer and financial institution level. They then presented their feedback in front of representatives from the local government authority.

There was a high level of engagement in the dialogues from participants, with men, women and young people all actively offering examples of their own experiences and contributing to discussions.

Opportunities

Sorghum has become an alternative crop to maize in Dodoma because it is tolerant of climate change and commands a higher price of Tanzanian Shillings (Tshs) 550 per kilogram compared to Tshs 250 for maize. Between June and September 2021[LP1] , 125 MT of sorghum with a value of Tshs 68 million was bought by TBL from 84 farmers in Chamae village in Kongwa district with support from Farm Africa and WFP.

A total of 628 sorghum farmers from Kongwa, Mpwapwa and Chamwino have entered into contract farming and are expected to deliver a total of 10,000 MT to TBL by the end of this season. Some of them have been helped to access credit from commercial banks like NMB, supplied with assured seeds from buyers and benefiting from a well-structured market.

At the meeting, local communities realised that the local government authorities are mandated by the law to set aside 10% of their revenue to issue interest-free loans to registered groups of women (40%), youth (40%) and persons with disabilities (20%).

Challenges

1. General

  • Inadequate knowledge of good agricultural practices as sorghum is still a new crop to most farmers in the area.
  • Lack of motivation amongst young people and women to register groups so as to access the interest-free loans at the district level.

2.     Market-related

  • Payment is often not made on time. It was suggested that payment might have been done within contractual agreed time of 14 days from day of purchase.
  • According to farmers, the price per kilo of Tshs 550 offered by the buyer wasn’t fair compared to production costs.

3.     Governance-related

Buyers are charged a village crop levy of Tshs 1,500 per 90kg bag of sorghum bought. There are different levy amounts for different crops and animals. It was noted some buyers have been avoiding the levy by working with farmers to acquire the approval to pass [LP2] (as farmers are allowed to pass with up to one ton of agricultural produce). During the discussion, it was confirmed by the Village Executive Officers that 30% of funds from the crop levy and 50% of funds from the animal levy comes back to the village in the form of development projects like construction of classrooms, public toilets etc. The village government needs to put a plan and submit to the district office for funding.

4.     Gender-related

  • There is still a mindset within the community that because men pay dowries they require more money and properties than women.
  • Despite being responsible for feeding households, women are often not involved in selling sorghum. However, this was not the case in Chamae village, where 75MT out of 125 MT of sorghum sold came from 48 female farmers. This has been attributed to Farm Africa's gender interventions in the area whereby decision making and market opportunities have been almost equal between men and women.

Two sorghum farmers working with Farm Africa in Dodoma, Tanzania.

Judith Mbijima and her husband Samwel Mbijima are an example of a household where gender equality has been practised. Judith is a chairperson of a local sorghum farmers group and women's group in Chamae village. Under her leadership, the women's group has taken up opportunities including securing a no-interest loan from the district office.

Most people agreed that where love exists, gender equality comes automatically.

Conclusion

The dialogue highlighted that the cultivation and marketing of sorghum offers opportunities to build the resilience of rural communities in Dodoma, to climate change due to the crop’s high value and drought tolerance. However, there are barriers to realising this potential, which need to be addressed, including farmers’ lack of knowledge around the cultivation of sorghum, low take-up of loans, slow payment by buyers and lack of women’s involvement in the marketing of the crop.

At 10.00am GMT on Monday 8 November, Farm Africa Technical Services Specialist Charles Kainkwa will take part in the Recipes for Resilience Food and Climate Zone organised by Nourish Scotland to present the findings from the dialogues in Dodoma, alongside Anastasia Mbatia, Farm Africa Technical Manager for Agriculture, who will present findings from the Farm Africa dialogue on food loss and waste in Kenya.

You can register to attend the talk online at: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/online-climate-change-mitigation-and-resilience-in-rural-eastern-africa-tickets-197831057017