Tanzania government plans to roll out small-scale irrigation technology to help farmers deal with climate change

By ANNE ROBI

MOHAMMED Mussa is a local farmer at Morogoro Region of Tanzania—for many years, the young and energetic man depended on rain-fed fields, growing tomatoes and carrots for sustaining his livelihood.

But today, the rains that have traditionally sustained Mussa’s crops aren’t coming as usual.  As climate change impacts hit hard, causing late arrival and shorter duration of the rainy seasons,  Mussa has had to drop the growth of tomatoes and carrots that for many years earned him a living.

“In the past we used to get good rains, the growing of tomatoes and carrots sustained. I harvested all year round, but now with the impact of climate change, I harvest fewer in each season,” Mussa said.

Now missing the rains during growing seasons, Mussa has shifted to growing drought-resistant crops such as cassava. 

Due to lack of information on how to experience and respond to climate change impacts, Mussa still believes that rains are the only solution to sustain the growth of crops.

“Even though I am using a number of coping traditional ways to retain water soils, rainy seasons are the best that assures me of good harvest,” he said. 

A survey conducted by this reporter in several villages in the Morogoro region of Tanzania indicates that most small-scale farmers have opted for traditional strategies in adapting to climate change, such as incorporating manure into the soil to help retain more water. 

However, these methods are not effective enough against the vast seasonal changes that the region is experiencing, said the chairperson of the Local Farmers Association of Mliman Village, Morogoro Region, Haji Mkandanogwa.

“We are using traditional ways of preserving waters, though not sustainable especially during long dry seasons,” Mkandanogwa said.

“Most farmers have stopped growing crops such as tomatoes, carrots, vegetables and other horticultural crops which require more water for yielding, and this is because of lack of predictable rainy seasons,” he added.

Mkandanogwa said he wishes for interventions from agriculture experts and government to enable local farmers to acquire more water to sustain crops.

Agriculture is the backbone of Tanzania’s economy. It provides a livelihood to more than three quarters of the population, mostly small-scale farmers. It accounts for 15 percent of national exports, and contributes 27.8 per cent of Tanzania’s Gross Domestic Product. 

But climate change is posing a huge threat to the sustainability of the sector.

Worldwide, Studies indicate that climate change is reducing the availability of water resources for crop production. In Tanzania, local farmers are feeling the greatest impacts. 

Irrigation Technologies: An Under-Utilized Solution

Studies indicate that small-scale irrigation development through water harvesting technology supports local farmers to improve agriculture productivity, ensuring food security and reducing poverty. Water harvesting technologies enable farmers to collect rainwater and utilize it in small-scale irrigation systems such as drip irrigation, where water is supplied slowly and directly to the roots of plants.

Such technologies are an option for smallholder farmers such as Mussa to improve and increase their production of traditional crops even when rains are unpredictable. However, few farmers in the Morogoro region have so far adopted these technologies.  

The Food and Agriculture Organization FAO) and the International Programme for Technology and Research in Irrigation and Drainage (IPTRID) missions have found that lower-cost, more water-efficient irrigation technologies have the potential to greatly expand small-scale irrigation in East and Southern Africa and significantly improve food security and family incomes. 

Worldwide, irrigation boosts crop production 3-4 times than that of rain fed agriculture.

In East Africa, Kenya is a success story in developing and adopting these technologies. There, supplementary irrigation is transforming subsistence farmers into commercial agents. 

The opportunities and constraints faced by Kenya in revolutionizing small farming through better irrigation technologies provide some important lessons to other countries and to the donor community about how to proceed along this “new frontier”.

In Tanzania, farmers’ use of irrigation technologies remains low. However, the government has rolled out a plan to adopt and establish small scale irrigation systems to boost crop production for small-scale farmers in rural areas of the country.

Currently, Tanzania has 2,678 irrigation schemes and some of the schemes are not productive, according to the Minister of Agriculture, Japhet Hasunga. The National Irrigation policy states that Tanzania needs to take advantage of utilising the identified irrigation potential area amounting to 29.4 million hectares for sustainable irrigation development.  

Hasunga told the ‘Daily News’ in an interview that model irrigation schemes will be developed across the country to show local farmers how they can adopt such technologies to improve their agricultural productivity.

“We will develop an irrigation scheme in each and every municipality to serve as a demonstration irrigation land for small scale farmers in the respective areas,” he said.

The ministry’s strategies include promoting small-scale irrigation through low cost water harvesting technology irrigation plans. The ministry is also reviewing the National Irrigation Commission (NIRC) to create a new system that will facilitate the management of irrigation schemes at the district level.

This will entail recruiting irrigation officers at the district level and forming irrigation secretariats at a regional level to ensure efficiency of the schemes.

“The review will also lead to identification and utilization of irrigation potential areas for sustainable irrigation development in the country,” he said.  

The government is currently soliciting funds from donors and development partners to be able to implement the plans, Hasunga said.

An environment and climate change expert at the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM), Pius Yanda, applauded the government initiative to develop small-scale irrigation for local farmers.

“It is a vital idea in Tanzania, especially at the time the country is striving to develop industrial economy; the irrigation scheme is important to increase productivity,” Yanda said.

Yanda said the government should come up with strategies that will ensure that small-scale irrigation schemes are sustainable, producing water for 10 to 20 years to come.

“The irrigation plans to be developed should be climate-smart irrigation problems – they should be irrigation plans that foresee the future climate change effects,” he noted.

Food and agriculture both lie at the very heart of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by United Nations in 2015, from ending poverty and hunger to responding to climate change and sustaining the Earth’s natural resources.

Goal 2 (2.3) calls for the world to double the agricultural productivity and the incomes of small-scale food producers by 2030, particularly women, indigenous people, family farmers, pastoralists and fisherfolk. This should be done through “secure and equal access to land, other productive resources and inputs, knowledge, financial services, markets, and opportunities for value addition and non-farm employment.”

The Tanzanian government has a critical role to play in creating an enabling environment for technology development and uptake of small-scale irrigation towards achieving the SDGs and sustaining the livelihoods of most of the population.