Irrigation key to sustainable agriculture for smallholder potato farmers in Tanzania


As the world’s population continues to increase, food growers – especially smallholder farmers – need to find ways of producing food sustainably. This requires them to use available resources like water in a more climate-friendly way, without damaging the environment to sustain food production.

Irrigation plays a crucial role in ensuring farmers produce food without disruptions throughout the year. 
This is especially true for Tanzania, where 80% of potatoes are grown in the Southern Highlands of Iringa, Njombe and Mbeya regions, and where agriculture is mainly rain-fed and highly vulnerable to the negative impacts of climate change. This includes frequent extreme weather events, shifting agroecosystem boundaries, reduced crop quality and quantity, and an increase in invasive weeds and insects.

Many on-the-farm activities come to a standstill if there are no rains to support planting. This leaves smallholder farmers idle and with little (or no) income at all.

CRAFT supporting farmers in Makete district with irrigation farming

To support offseason potato production in Makete district, the Climate Resilient Agribusiness for Tomorrow (CRAFT) project – through its partnership with East Africa Fruit Farm Company Limited (EAFFC) – has introduced smallholder farmers to several climate smart agriculture (CSA) practices and technologies.

Practices such as use of early maturing improved seed varieties, reliance on weather forecasted information, and good agronomic practices like line planting, early planting, timely weeding, post harvest handling and use of machinery are some of the core innovations that are introduced to farmers through learning events such as trainings and farmer field days/visits.

During one of the dry seasons last year, EAFFC sampled gravity irrigation farming and established nine irrigation farmer field schools for nine farmer groups in Makete district. While some farmers rejected the programme, questioning and doubting the viability of profits from potatoes in a dry season, Magoye farmers’ group took up the initiative.

“During a sensitisation meeting about this new technology, many farmers said they wouldn’t adopt it and predicated that we would fail since they had never seen or heard of potato farming during the offseason. However, after a few months, the munificent harvest shocked all of them. To their surprise, the quality of harvested potatoes was even better than those that usually yield during the rainy season,” said Sandro Bosco, a farmer from Magoye Group.
Following the above success, and with the technical support from the CRAFT project team and EAFFC extension workers, the group established a gravity irrigation demonstration plot in September last year.
In addition to the acquired knowledge and skills on CSA, the Magoye Farmers’ Group also received a set of five sprinklers, irrigation pipes, fertilizers, agrochemicals and 1000kgs of Obama improved potato seed varieties – all of which resulted in a manifold yield.

Since it was offseason production, the farmgate prices of potatoes were high, so Magoye leveraged on irrigation to tap into the market and the testimonies of farmers demonstrate why promoting such climate smart innovations is key in ensuring all-round year food production.

Zawadi Sanga along with other farmers from Magoye harvesting potatoes from their demo plot in Makete

Zawadi Sanga along with other farmers from Magoye harvesting potatoes from their demo plot in Makete

Zawadi Sanga, the chairperson of Magoye Farmers Group, says that availability of resources, technical knowledge, and support are key in scaling adoption of climate smart agricultural practices and technologies such as irrigation.

“Irrigation farming had never crossed our minds. But we only adopted it after undergoing trainings organised by EAFFC, with the support of the CRAFT Project. After the trainings, we first tried the innovation on only one acre. The total capital that was invested did not exceed Tanzania Shillings (Tsh) 2,100,000 (€830). To our shock, we harvested almost 10 tons of potatoes and amassed a total revenue of close to Tsh. 5,610,000 (about €2218),” Sanga shared.

The immense profit margin is partly attributed to the farmgate price during the offseason as it was almost three times higher than during the normal production season. “The unit cost of a potato bag increased from Tsh. 15,000 (€6) to Tsh. 55,000 (€22) that was not the only benefit as the costs of agrochemicals were low since plant diseases and pests were very minimal,” Sanga shared.

Hance Melchior, the CRAFT Project Coordinator at EAFFC shares similar sentiments about irrigation technology since it saved his company from the burden of sourcing scarce potatoes that always resulted into inconsistency in supply.

“The demand for potato produce is high during offseason while supply is down since few farmers produce.  After learning and experiencing firsthand the benefits of irrigation farming, farmers started procuring irrigation materials and equipment necessary for next offseason. This will ensure availability of produce for us to buy, and we will substantially meet our market demand and also broaden the company revenue base,” Hance said.
Mayoge Farmers’ Group plans to invest 80% of the income generated to increase the area under irrigation from to 10 acres in the next offseason.

“In the future, we plan to establish a group of Agrovet shops so that farmers can get all farming inputs here at an affordable price and we encourage more farmers from different villages to come and learn from us,” Sanga said.


Written by: Janet Muya, CRAFT Communications Intern in Tanzania.

More information: The Climate Resilient Agribusiness for Tomorrow (CRAFT), is a five year project, implemented in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda with focus on three pillars; increasing adoption of climate smart practices and technologies amongst farmers and agro-enterprises; increasing investments and business growth in climate smart value chains; and creating enabling environment necessary to ensure large-scale roll-out of market driven climate smart agriculture. The project is passionate about women and youth inclusion as one of the indicators seeks to increase the number of women and youth employed in the private sector. The cross-cutting workstream for gender and youth inclusion emphasizes targeted interventions where needed, to ensure equity and inclusion through a sustainable gender sensitive climate smart service provision.