The advices given to small-scale farmers sometimes make we wonder what planet Tanzania’s politicians and the public officials are from. I thought of it again this morning when I came across an article in the Citizen, inspired by a District Commissioner in Mvomero District, who was complaining about farmers being backward. Allegedly they prefer the hand hoe over using a power tiller when preparing their fields. Therefore, so the story goes, the farmers are to blame for the failure of the President’s high profile initiative to increase agricultural production, Kilimo Kwanza.
Tanzanian farmers may be conservative. But to my knowledge, they are not stupid. Based on my intuition, being the son of a farmer myself (though not a Tanzanian one), I shall suggest that the district commissioner takes a closer look at the economy of the farmers in her district. Farmers where I come from, being confronted with new government schemes, usually ask, whether they pay off. I imagine that Tanzanian farmers may ask the same question. They do, after all, not farm for President Kikwete. They farm for themselves and their families.
Farmers may have good reasons for not using power tillers. I can think of several reasons; they cannot afford the fuel; it is cheaper (for those who can afford it) to hire manual labourer; their plots of land are too small; the risk is too high. Concerning the latter, I would suspect that the risk is quite high. In case a power tiller breaks down in a remote area, a farmer may have to wait long for spare parts. Maybe there is no fuel around. In case of drought he or she may loose a big investment. Etc.
In a remote village I once visited, I was told that the district agricultural extension officer had passed by recently. He had advised people to use tractors. I was amazed. The previous year, that village had been hunger struck because of draught. Their biggest problem was water. Or the lack of drought resistant crops. Or the bad road, which made it difficult for them to get to town with their produce…
If you ask small-scale farmers in Tanzania what they need the most to increase their production, they would probably make a long wish-list before they started thinking of power tillers and tractors. It could be an interesting exercise by the way. What would happen if politicians and public officials started asking farmers what they need instead of telling them what to do?