Monica Paschal is a 48-year-old farmer and a mother of five. She has been involved in small-scale farming for 27 years and refers to herself as ‘mkulima wa kujikimu’ (Swahili for smallholder/subsistence farmer).
‘The past three years have been the most satisfying to me as a farmer because I have been able to gradually transform my farming from subsistence to a profitable mini-enterprise which has enabled me to build a new house and pay my children's school fees,’ says Paschal.
From cultivating sole maize (with sparse pigeon pea intercrop) year after year in the family's three-acre plot; Paschal now also grows tomatoes, African eggplant, amaranth and sweet pepper in a systematic rotation system as well as rearing poultry – thanks to support from Africa RISING.
A chance meeting
‘It all started from a chance meeting with Africa RISING project staff three years ago,’ she says. ‘A village extension officer had invited all farmers in Galapo village for a meeting in 2013 and I attended the meeting out of sheer curiosity.’
I found the project team was looking for volunteers to take part in the project’s research activities, and I quickly registered, even though at that time, I did not fully know what this would mean for me,' she recalls nostalgically.
This first step of registering with the project staff led to profound benefits that have changed Paschal’s life. Her initial curiosity turned into keen interest and she became a regular participant in all project meetings and farm field schools within the community in Galapo.
Her farm is a picturesque sight of ripe, round, succulent fruiting tomato plants supported on stakes. ‘I take everything I have learnt from the project seriously,’ says Monica. She is one of 70 farmers in Galapo village who were introduced, by the project, to elite vegetable varieties and trained on various aspects of vegetable-poultry integration and production including: healthy seedling establishment, good agricultural practices, integrated crop and pest management, water harvesting and management practices, nutrition, use of vegetable residue as poultry feed, mechanized poultry feed production to inclusion of poultry droppings as organic manure.
Tripled her income
According to Monica, putting into practice all these new improved agronomic practices have enabled her to triple her income from farming.
‘From this ¾ hectares of land where I grow tomatoes and other vegetables while keeping chicken, I now earn nearly TShs 6 million (approx. USD 2,500). In the old system, where I grew maize intercropped with pigeon pea I would only earn just about TShs 2 million,' she says.
‘What I have learnt from this project has improved my farming practices and I now know when I plant maize and pigeon pea here then the next season I can plant tomatoes for the best results,’
Not just a passive learner
Monica also explains that she is not just a passive learner from the project. Depending on circumstances, she sometimes modifies or finds alternatives to some of the challenges. For example, she explains that while the Africa RISING project staff have always advised them to prune the tomato plants at certain stages.She didn't do it this time because she felt the weather was not right and pruning would expose her tomato fruits to the sun hence causing them to ripen faster than she wants them to.
But it has not been an easy learning process for Paschal. She recalls with some regret her initial foray into poultry rearing which ended disastrously after nearly all the 13 chicks (improved local breed) that she initially got from the project as part of her vegetable-poultry integration start up died almost as soon as they arrived. But she learnt from the experience. Since then, she bought replacement chicks from fellow farmers and the numbers of her brood have now grown to 24 .
‘We have been trained on poultry management including proper poultry housing, rural poultry feeding for enhanced productivity, how to use poultry feed processing machines, chick rearing and poultry diseases and their control,’ she says. ‘Once these birds are mature, I intend to sell them at a profit since local chicken breeds are in high demand,’ she adds.
Paschal's main concern now is ensuring that her produce reaches the market and is sold at the right price. While market access and infrastructure remains a significant barrier to ensuring income security for many smallholder farmers in rural Tanzania; Paschal has found her own solution to the problem.
Vegetable vendors from the nearby markets come directly to her farm to buy tomatoes at wholesale price for later retailing. Paschal also contracts a local bus company to deliver her produce to far off markets where she has clients including one that is nearly 100km from her village.