‘Since 1990, it is only now that I can see a real positive difference in my life, particularly in terms of increased profit. ‘ICT has lifted me from the misery of a poor tomato producer into the relative ‘luxury’ of a modern farmer employing improved production techniques,’ Richard Kaovera, a smallholder farmer and member of the Association of Iringa Tomato and Vegetable Growers (AITVG) narrates. Richard asserts that the use of the Mobile Ag extension tool has guided him to adopt a high yielding Hasira FI tomato variety which matures in 75 days, requires much less fertilizers and can be harvested at least 10 times compared to only 6 times for the previous seed varieties. The farmer harvested 1,800 boxes (cartons) of tomatoes and earned approximately $13,500 from 1.5 acres of land.
With support from Lutheran World Relief (LWR), The Association of Iringa Tomato and Vegetable Growers (AITVG) is implementing a three-year project aimed at strengthening capacity of the Association to among others use mobile technology aided production to improve tomato productivity and farmers’ livelihood. AITVG is an apex of 45 tomato and vegetable producer groups with a total of 5,000 smallholder farmers in 23 villages of Iringa Rural District of Tanzania
Code named ‘Nyanja ni Pesa’ (Tomatoes mean Money), the project adopted a Group Enterprise Agent (GEA) model to support smallholder farmers. A GEA is a model farmer selected by fellow farmers to lead three farmer groups within a village. Working with Gutsinda Development Group (Gutsinda) a mobile technology based social enterprise, 23 GEAs were identified and trained in use of the technology tools. Each GEA is equipped with a smart mobile phone/tablet pre-loaded with agricultural content and digitized data collection forms.
Each GEA is tasked to profile all group members including their GPS using the ICT tools. This enables regular tracking and measurement of progress for each farmer. In addition, GEAs act as infomediaries; share best practices in good agricultural practices such as seed-bed preparation, fertilizer application, how to plant, pest and disease control, harvest and post-harvest handling, weather and market information among others. Updates on market prices are also easily transmitted by GEAs to enable farmers make informed decisions before selling their tomato produce. Through the same applications photos of pests and diseases can be taken and forwarded to the relevant authorities e.g. research centers to seek support and or trigger research.
GEAs reach out to farmers through farmer group model and individual farmer demos – on farm support. Farmers also proactively invite GEA to their farms to have practical skills training (on farm practices) and resolve farm challenges at the same time monitor farmers’ garden performance.
Moses Kabogo, LWR Country Programme Manager in Tanzania, highlights that the exemplary diligence, commitment and discipline of AITVG staff attracted LWR to explore a partnership integrating ICT into tomato production aimed at transforming smallholder farmers through increased use of timely and relevant tomato technologies, aggregation of inputs purchase and bulking yields for improved market access.
Joseph Kianjo, a farmer and AITVG member narrates how the ICT tools have enabled him and his peers (smallholder farmers) to recognize the ‘best and safest’ pesticides to use in order to get better yields. In addition, Kisinge also mentions how farmer are now able to record their data in appropriate books (farm records), which helps them to keep the documents in safe custody in order to ascertain their loss or profit made at the end of the production chain.
Despite the benefits accruing from the association and LWR’s support, the farmers appealed for more support from the government of Tanzania to emulate the LWR-Gutsinda GEA Ag extension model to reach out smallholder farmers with appropriate extension and advisory services including assessment of soil quality and subsidised agro input linkages.
Agricultural scientists reveal that tomatoes have a significant nutritional value, yet a fast maturing crop. In recent years, the crop has become known as an important source of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant with anti-cancer properties, alongside providing vitamins and minerals. They add that one medium ripe tomato can provide up to 40 per cent of the recommended daily allowance of Vitamin C and 20 per cent of Vitamin A – in addition to contributing B vitamins, potassium, iron and calcium to the diet. As a result LWR in partnership with Gutsinda, farmers association in Tanzania will continue to support farmers with real time information and feedback mechanism using a robust technologically support GEA model.
Bruce Kisitu, Nicholas Mugabi, Hadia Nalwadda, Gutsinda Development Group, email@example.com, +256 414 530 247/+256 772 426 799