“My biggest dream is to one day buy a car from proceeds of my wheat farm so that I can also drive my wife to the city like other rich people,” says Jashon Mwanchazi, amid cheers of encouragement from fellow wheat farmers from Ulinji village, Rukwa region in the southern highlands zone of Tanzania some 504 kilometers from the capital Dodoma.
Jashon is one of the 74 wheat farmers from the Rukwa Innovation Platform of the SARD-SC Wheat project. He is one of the farmers currently participating in on farm demonstration of the newly released high yielding wheat varieties from the Agricultural Research Institute, ARI – Uyole. Jashon has been a wheat farmer since 2004 and he says that previously he used to get just 1.6 t/ha. However two years ago his productivity begun to rise due to support from the SARD-SC Wheat project. The support covered training on better agronomic practices and access to new high yielding wheat seeds. “Previously I used to practice traditional farming methods and that is why my yields were low,” Jashon explains. “But that has changed, I plant new high yielding wheat varieties, in addition, I use fertilizers and also practice row planting and as a result I now harvest 15 bags per acre (6 tons per ha),” he adds. From the proceeds of his wheat farm, Jashon says he can now pay school fees for his children. He has other big plans though. He sees himself moving out of poverty completely in a few years’ time, building a new house for his family and even buying a car.
Jashon and his farmer group gets frequent visits from curious farmers who want to join the group after witnessing their increased harvests. This, he says, is the reason their farmer group has expanded from 21 farmers to the current 74 farmers. Jashon was interviewed on 24th of May 2016 during a farmer’s field visit led by Dr. Rose Mongi, the Country Coordinator for the SARD-SC Wheat Project in Tanzania in the company of Dr. Tolessa Debele from Ethiopia, Dr. Solomon Assefa, SARD-SC Wheat Commodity Specialist and Dr. Zacharia Malley, Director ZDRD. In Rukwa, the project has over 600 farmers 35% of whom are female and are registered into two Innovation Platforms. Tanzania recently released three new high yielding wheat varieties for high rainfall environments. The varieties have a potential for between 4.9 and 5.8 t/ha under on farm trials and seed multiplication respectively.
Wheat in Tanzania
Wheat is the third most important crop after rice and maize in Tanzania. The country’s wheat imports bill is currently $225 million USD per year (USDA, March 2016). The current annual production of 110,000 tons accounts for only 11 percent of total domestic consumption and the deficit is offset by imports. Over 90 percent of wheat produced in Tanzania comes from the northern highlands (Arusha, Kilimanjaro, and Manyara regions) and the southern highlands (Iringa, Mbeya regions). Production in the southern highlands is predominantly small scale and large scale in the northern highlands. Approximately 100,000 ha are currently devoted to wheat production.