Visiting drought prone regions in Tanzania

Originally published by WINnERS, 15 Jul 2016. Read the original post here. By William Thompson

In March, I travelled to Central and Northern Tanzania with the World Food Programme (WFP) team, to visit several farmer organisations that are participating in the Patient Procurement Platform (PPP). The PPP is an emanation of WFP’s smallholder sourcing policy, designed to catalyse increased production for smallholder farmers through co-ordinating market demand. These are farmers the WINnERS project aims to benefit.

From P4P to PPP farmers can become WINnERS
My visit took advantage of a parallel project that was evaluating the success of another WFP engagement with smallholder farmers in Tanzania, Purchase for Progress (P4P). P4P highlights some of the key challenges faced in creating well-functioning agricultural value chains: capacity building and infrastructure development for village and district scale farmer organisations, in the form of leadership training and warehouse construction. Without well-functioning farmer organisations, the individual smallholder farmers that these cooperatives serve are unable aggregate sufficient produce to become market players and are certainly not able to deal directly with the medium to larger scale processors that dominate Tanzanian grain markets.


This work helps to shift power into the hands of smallholders to overcome an imbalance that has evolved in the Tanzanian agricultural sector, a phenomenon endemic to small-scale agriculture globally. Building on the work of P4P, in these regions, the PPP aims to harness the gains made through farmer co-operation and catalyse private sector market engagement by these smallholders. It is via these value chains that the WINnERS project – led by Imperial College to build weather and climate resilient supply chains through better risk management tools – has huge potential to enable climate adaptation through the novel risk sharing strategies.

A journey into the “sunken” region
My visit had multiple objectives: gaining a clearer picture of the production systems employed by the farmers, developing a better understanding cooperative buying and borrowing relationships and being able to characterise the livelihoods of the members of the cooperatives. Since the WINnERS project focuses on creating insurance products that predict the likelihood of weather driven crop losses in a small area and share risk between the farmers, cooperatives, banks and food buyers, this information helps the project to calibrate the crop models that underpin the contract design process.

After a journey of some thousand kilometres that involved taxis planes, motorbikes, and buses, I arrived in Babati, the regional administrative capital of Manyara region. Little did I know, the base for the trip would be the aptly named WINNERS HOTEL. This provided a stepping stone into the Central Tanzanian region of Dodoma. The three main tribes of the region are the Gogo, the Warangi and the Wasandawi, with Dodoma meaning “sunk” in the Gogo language.


In contrast to the aqueous connotations of the Gogo name, the region often suffers from drought. I had arrived at a time where the sub-district of Kwamtoro, where WFP is working with several farmer organisations, had not received rain for 30 straight days. The effect of this was already noticeable on the maize crops that stretch as far as the eye can see. The crops were significantly stunted and the land arid – spelling hard times ahead for those smallholder farmers who rely on their crops for food and income. On my second evening in the district capital Kondoa, the rains finally returned to much needed relief for all the farmers and their families.

Trusting the weather is a leap of faith most farmers are unwilling to take
The next day I had the opportunity to speak with several farmers from the local Savings and Credit Co-operative Society.  We talked about their desire to improve their production systems, and the sense of reluctance to invest in improved seed or inputs. When asked why they had chosen, this season, not to access inputs through the PPP system, they said that risk was too great. If their crop failed they would not be able to repay the loans. Following up on this I asked the farmers to identify the biggest risk to their production. The resounding response from around the room was: drought.

“Drought spelled malnourishment, loss of precious livestock and removing children from school.”

They could not trust the weather. This conversation was repeated at several different farmer organisations across Dodoma and also further north in Manyara and Arusha regions. These farmers were not primed to talk about climate risks –  they have grown up in a society that is at the mercy of the weather, especially drought.

The most recent drought was during the 2015 season. Asking about last year’s drought at a meeting of co-operative members in Manyara immediately evoked a strong sense of emotion in the room – the personal impact that this erratic rainfall had on the lives of several people in the room was tragic.

Presented here was the serious, life consuming problem faced by rain-fed smallholder farmers across sub-Saharan Africa. Yet, projects such as PPP and WINnERS possess the potential to mitigate these problems. Regions like Dodoma no longer need to be “sunk” by drought.  With secure markets, better protection against weather risks that are shared across the supply chain, these farmers no longer need to be vulnerable to the uncertainty of weather – and finally make investments in their futures that can be backed up by more than just a leap of faith.


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