It’s difficult to overstate the importance of agriculture in Tanzania. Farming provides the primary income for more than 80 percent of people living in rural areas. Domestic agriculture contributes to 95 percent of the country’s food supply.
But these figures can also be a bit misleading. Tanzania’s agriculture is dominated by small holder farmers who achieve very low productivity. Only 24 percent of arable land is being utilized. The country remains one of the poorest in the world.
“Many people are not using best practices,” says Felix Kamau, agriculture strategy director for The Nature Conservancy in Africa and lead SNAPP Principal Investigator. “The government recognizes that better-managed and more intensive agriculture could lift two million people out of poverty.”
In 2009, Tanzania launched a strategy called “Agriculture first.” Part of that involves developing agriculture land in southern Tanzania over an area larger than Switzerland, now known as the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT). This area is home to many small farmers who rely on their fields for subsistence. It is also home to the Selous, one of the largest protected areas on the African continent and home to large herds of elephants and other iconic large mammals. Can this intensive development occur while meeting the needs of people and wildlife?
Enter the SNAPP Smart Agriculture Planning working group – whose products are usable by non-scientists – that is providing a blueprint for productive, profitable, ecologically sustainable agriculture in the region.
The working group focuses on clustering development in agriculturally productive areas that minimizes ecological impacts. It also is developing land use and water-use tools that make small farmers more productive and sustainable.
“We’re developing a tool that assists local water boards in distributing water to farmers properly,” Kamau cites as one example. “This will allow farmers to use water more sustainably. This, in turn, will ensure adequate river flows for the Selous River, which is downstream.”
The working group has also looked at crop suitability modeling, evaluating 23 crops by area based on climate suitability.
“Southern Tanzania will have large-scale commercial farms alongside small-scale subsistence farms,” says Kamau. “We’re taking a holistic approach, looking at how to achieve this agricultural vision while meeting the needs of people and the environment.
Read the full sustainable agriculture report.