Fatma is a mother providing for her family through agriculture. However, rising temperatures, floods, and polluting industries are making growing crops harder.

by Ngalima Albasheer, Ng’walu Chopeta, Ray Kiliho, and Namyaki Mollel

Climate Change’s most notorious impact is against agriculture as rivers dry, but not only. Proper education and governmental support can also help communities be aware of how to best grow crops and provide for their families.  

Agriculture is considered to be the backbone of Tanzania’s economy contributing over one-quarter of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and providing 85% of exports with over 80% employed in that sector. Despite the importance of the sector and its huge dependence, many of the workforce conduct agricultural activities on a small scale. This means that the farming activities are done on a subsistence level and not to become a profitable business.

In big cities like Dar es Salaam, agricultural activities are mostly done on a small scale basis meaning less than 2 hectares of field. This is due to the rapid population increase, areas to conduct large scale farming are unavailable, along with the effects of climate change causing more strain. The agricultural industry is greatly affected by climate change through the resulting droughts, floods, and agriculture temperature shocks among others. These changes have directly impacted people involved in the agriculture industry.

Fatma Juma

Fatma Juma (37) has been doing small-scale cultivation of leafy vegetables, mainly Amaranthus. She is a mother of 4 children, the oldest being 15 years and the youngest being 3 years. Her husband passed away when she was pregnant with her last baby. Life has been difficult ever since her husband passed away 3 years ago. Struggling with her 4 children, being a father and a mother at the same time.  She has to provide the basic needs for her children and at the same time take care of her ailing mother who stays with them.

Amaranthus grown in Tanzania are green in color and the leaves are cooked. The leaves provide an excellent source of Vitamins A, Vitamin C, calcium, manganese and folic acid. There has been research conducted to assess the use of seed corp Amaranth to improve food security and mitigate adverse climate change. 

Fatma picks her vegetables from her small farm in the early hours of dawn. She then begins her journey at the market to sell her vegetables. She has to walk several kilometers every day with the remaining vegetables to sell them around households as she carries her 3-year-old child behind her back. Although it is a tiring job, she has no alternative in order to provide for her family.

Fatma lives near the plain called Jangwani, the water that she uses for irrigation comes from a river flowing along called Msimbazi. The valley extends from Jangwani to Tabata and all along there is cultivation of leafy vegetables. She inherited from her parents a small garden that she uses to cultivate it dsince she was a small girl. For the amaranthus to be ready, it takes about 1 month for it to be fit for plucking. 

Location of Jangwani floodplain in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania
Fig.1 Map of Jangwani

Floods

In recent years there have been floods along the valley occuring due to heavier rains. The increased volumes of runoff lead to flooding and therefore, a higher flow of the river coming at greater speed. The increased flow also causes the river bank itself to erode away and the loose sediment is carried downstream. When this happens water reaches the farms causing the vegetables to be covered by sediments leading to a total damage to the vegetables. In order to set the farm back in place it takes from 2-3 months which is a long time for farmers like Fatuma whose income mainly depends on this cultivation.

The effect of climate change has caused the river to become a seasonal river and no longer perennial. This means that during most times of the year, the river is dry. This is a challenge as before it was just three hundred metres from the river to the farms, it was easier for them to irrigate. When the river dries up, they have to walk a distance of about one-kilometer to get water from the community water tap, which is not free and Fatuma has to pay.

Changes in Temperature and Polluting Industries

Changes in temperature and moisture have caused pests and diseases to be a more prominent problem. The growth of Amaranthus is affected by pests like spinach aphids causing the leaves to fold, shrink, and wither.

Another challenge Fatma faces is that the water from the river is sometimes coloured, becoming unsafe for irrigation. The color of the water changes because industries release their wastewater into the river affecting the soil’s properties like pH and salt concentration. 

The cultivation of leafy vegetables requires water which is not salty because it reduces the productivity of the soil. When this happens Fatuma has to find an alternative source of water. In the early days there were natural springs that were used in case of river fluctuations, but now the springs have dried up. The other alternative is digging up wells to access groundwater.

She says, “I would be very happy if I was supported financially and trained on greenhouse or hydroponic farming to overcome the periods of dry season and also during the floods.” However, greenhouse farming startups are very expensive for most Tanzanians.

Education and Governmental Support

Fatma hopes the government could build gabion walls along the banks so that when the flow of river increases the nearby farms are protected from floods. Furthermore, she would like industries upstream to stop releasing their effluent water into the river. Hence, having water that is fit for irrigation. Despite the adverse climate change in Tanzania, in the Northern regions of Tanzania (Arusha, Manyara, and Kilimamjaro) agriculture has begun to attract more social groups, such as young people and women. They have now turned to agriculture especially following the education and awareness conducted by the flower growers association, vegetables and fruits in Tanzania TAHA (Tanzania Horticultural Association). Thus, demonstrating that proper education and environmental protection can go a long way to provide for communities, while reducing the impact of the climate crisis.

This article is part of a series written in collaboration with Vijana Think Tank to expand the climate narrative.

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