A better breed of cassava improves livelihoods in Tanzania

Christian Kayombo shows off his current cassava crop. © 2016 World Vision/photo by Silas Urio

Cassava farming is a challenging, yet fairly common form of livelihood for many Tanzanians, including Christian Kayombo, 64. Kayombo and his wife face an additional challenge — sadly, one of his five adult children and her husband passed away, leaving two grandchildren in the Kayombo’s care.

“Life was hard; my daughter Martina died, and her husband,” said Kayombo. “Taking care of orphans was a very difficult task as my cassava farming did not pay enough to cater for my own needs, let alone caring for these grandchildren.”

Kayombo struggled to provide for his family the same way he always had: by cultivating the kitingisha and kibandua meno varieties of cassava. These are fairly poor quality varieties of cassava that are low yield, prone to disease, adversely affected by drought, and difficult to market. While he did his best with the farming methods he knew, Kayombo was finding it hard to make ends meet.

At the same time, things were getting harder in Tanzania. Fluctuating exchange rates had devalued the Tanzanian shilling, driving up the prices farmers had to pay for imported goods and services, and reducing the return these farmers could receive from their produce.

A multi-faceted approach to cassava farming

To positively affect families in Tanzania like the Kayombos, the U.S. Department of Labor funded the Wekeza project. Wekeza is Swahili for “invested.” Wekeza is led overall by the International Rescue Committee (IRC), with World Vision focusing on livelihoods to:

  • Increase household income and asset accumulation from agricultural livelihoods
  • Increase access to alternative livelihood options
  • Increase the ability to withstand shocks through savings and access to credit

The ultimate goal is for children like Kayombo’s grandchildren to stay in school instead of dropping out to engage in child labor due to household income needs.

The project introduced Kayombo and other farmers to the Kiroba variety of cassava, which is a higher-yielding and more marketable variety than the ones they were using. World Vision used demonstration plots to teach new techniques to groups of farmers, and to demonstrate potential yield by using improved farming methods. It takes time for farmers to change the methods they are comfortable with, as it is a risky venture should their new crops fail. Fortunately, they were convinced, and more than 70 percent of the farmers demonstrated increased knowledge or skills, with 70 percent of households using new farming techniques.

Since agriculture can be risky, project households were encouraged to diversify their livelihood options with training and support in raising livestock, bees, and poultry. The combination of agricultural and non-agricultural activities produces multiple income sources, and animals are a safety net as they can be sold if a household needs cash.

Perhaps the most important aspect of Wekeza was establishment of Village Community Banks (VICOBAs).  Most project households are so poor that they cannot access savings and lending through traditional financial institutions. But through the VICOBAs, they have developed an increased ability to withstand shocks through savings and access to credit. These households come together in mutually accountable community groups to save and borrow small amounts of money for things like buying land, starting businesses, paying children’s school fees, or receiving health care. As of March 2016, almost 94 percent of the project households were accessing VICOBA loans.

Harvesting the benefits of better livelihoods

Kayombo was part of the Jembe farmers group that observed new farming techniques on the demo plots, which he then replicated on his 0.75-acre farm. As of March 2016, he had harvested 80 bags of cassava, 60 of which were sold for profit.

“It was a big challenge to support my family and grandchildren, but as of now, I can support them with meals and [provide for their] needs,” said Kayombo. “Apart from farming, VICOBA groups are complementing these efforts and life is made much easier.’’

He and some of his group members are now using drip irrigation for horticultural crops like tomatoes, cucumbers, and watermelon.  Additionally, the VICOBA group has allowed group members to benefit from a cassava-milling machine to further increase their production.

Although it is clear that Kayombo and 4,962 other Tanzanian households have benefitted from Wekeza’s livelihoods work, and that their children’s well-being is more secure, the project is drawing to a close in the final months of 2016. Fortunately, use of the improved cassava variety has proved sustainable, with 100 non-Wekeza families in Kayombo’s community using it as of March 2016. While expanding the use of improved cassava is important, what has made the Wekeza project successful has been the integration of agriculture, income diversification, and savings programs that have improved the lives of these Tanzanian farmers in a sustainable way.

Wekeza project was funded by USDOL. This story does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the United States Department of Labor, nor does the mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the United States Government.


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