Unique technique enables Tanzanian rice growers produce more with less seeds, water and land


Smallholder rice farmers drawn from green rolling hills of the Southern Highlands of Tanzania are benefiting from a unique farming technique that has enabled them produce more with less seeds, water, and smaller plots of land while applying the Integrated Pest Management (IPM).

The technique dubbed System of Rice Intensification (SRI) is an environmentally sustainable farming method which has enabled growers from the Kapunga Village in Tanzania’s Mbarali district, who depend on rice cultivation, boost their income and nutrition.

Under the Capacity Building Related to Multilateral Environmental Agreements project in African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Countries-Phase III (ACP MEAs 3) funded by the EU, the FAO project aims at supporting local farmers by training them in adopting the new farming method.

The initiative encourages local smallholders to participate in Farmer Field Schools (FFSs), offering them group plots of land and top-notch rice seeds called SARO 5 to practice the System of Rice Intensification (SRI).

In Tanzania, rice is the second most cultivated and commercial crop after maize, and rice farming is a major economic activity in the Mbeya region and its neighboring districts, including Kyela and Mbarali.

Increasing yields while preserving ecosystems

Rice farmer Emea Baragasi, 50, is a member of the “Ari Mpya” (New Spirit) group in the Kapunga Smallholder Irrigation Scheme, supported by ACP MEAs 3. The group comprises 16 members, equally split between eight women and eight men.

Ms. Baragasi resides in Kapunga with her husband and six children. Before receiving training in the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) at the ACP MEAs 3 Farmer Field School, which she joined in 2021, she had relied on traditional rice farming methods for over a decade. Her average yield was 22 bags of rice per acre, earning her USD 805 per acre per season on the local market.

“I used to blame my low yields on inadequate farming techniques and a lack of knowledge,” Ms. Baragasi said. She added that she used to harvest only 22 bags per acre, whereas after the training at the FFS farm, she was able to yield 38 bags per acre.

“After I complete harvesting the final batch of rice this season, I plan to implement the SRI technique on my own farm. I am confident this approach will lead to higher yields and increased income from future sales,” Ms. Baragasi said.

She highlighted that, unlike her previous farming methods, the SRI technique employs a specialized tool called a push weeder for weeding instead of using herbicides, helping to protect the environment from harmful chemicals. Additionally, SRI requires minimal water, conserving more for other uses.

From humble beginnings to success

Meshack Lyenje, 60, a member of the Ari Mpya group, also joined the ACP MEAs 3 FFS in 2021. He resides in Kapunga with his wife, while their four children have grown up and moved away.

Mr. Lyenje faced low yields in the past, averaging 27 bags per acre and earning USD 988 per acre per season on the local market.

“Next year, I plan to cultivate five acres based on the training I received. I anticipate harvesting 38 bags per acre, which will boost my income,” he said.

About ACP MEAs 3

ACP MEAs 3 is supporting the Government of the United Republic of Tanzania in its efforts to improve the lives of smallholder farmers and rural communities. The project is being implemented in six districts across the country: Karatu (Arusha), Kigamboni (Dar es Salaam), Kilolo (Iringa), Kilosa (Morogoro), Mbarali (Mbeya), and Same (Kilimanjaro).

ACP MEAs 3 helps farmers transition to more resilient and productive agrifood systems by offering training and capacity building in ecosystem-based practices that promote the sustainable management of resources, help protect the environment, improve food security and reduce poverty at the community level.