The magic velvet beans for magical transformation

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Mr. Maziba Augustine and his wife Veronica Revocatus managed to harvest 17 bags (100 kg each) of maize, where they used to get an average of 6 bags before practising conservation agriculture. The Mucuna seeds will be locally sold at TZS 2,000 per kg for other new farmers practising conservation agriculture.

Godfrey Magoma has worked in integrated climate smart agriculture projects with smallholder farmer communities in Tanzania for over 20 years. Magoma is a participant of the 2024 food systems e-course from Tanzania. In this blog, he writes about a magical solution to improve the lives of smallholders and explores the ways to increase its adoption.

Maziba Augustine and Veronica Revocatus run a small farm with 1.2 acres (almost half a hectare) of farmland in Bunda district, Tanzania. I work with them in our project on integrated conservation agriculture, funded by World Renew.

In the district, Maziba and Veronica are the early adopters of green manure cover crops. They have been intercropping Mucuna beans and Maize for the past three years. They were very happy last season, as they managed to harvest 17 bags (100 kg each) of maize, much better than the old average of 6 bags. The Mucuna is a cover crop that suppresses the weeds and it does magic by fixing nitrogen from the air in its roots. When the Mucuna beans are harvested in September, the plant leaves, stems and roots remain on the soil and eventually add up to the soil organic matter. Next, Maziba and Veronica use no tillage when planting the maize seed and they hardly need to weed.

The Mucuna Pruriens bean is a magic velvet bean. The magic bean improves soil health, reduces soil erosion, and increases water permeability. Importantly, it has also reduced the time spent on weeding, which means a benefit for women.

So, what I do not understand is why only 1% of all farmers in the district adopt this bean in their agricultural practice. Actually, the low adoption rate of conservation agriculture in Tanzania prompted me to apply for the food systems e-course. My goal was to learn from other experts and peers on how new practices can be widely promoted among smallholder farmers.

One important lesson from the e-course is to look beyond our own project and engage with other actors in our district. In the e-course they call this multi-stakeholder approach. A first step is to agree on the benefits of conservation agriculture; it is environmentally friendly, and it is low-cost for farmers. A second step is to jointly discuss the low adoption rate. Is there something about the magic bean which is holding farmers back? What have farmers learned from the examples in their district? Or is the problem in the way we communicate about it? How can we get authorities, businesses, farmers and development organisations in the district together and agree on the same message about the magic Mucuna bean?

As I write this blog after the e-course, we plan to engage with Bunda district council departments, private sector and development actors in the district. We will start by sharing key successes of our project in various forums. Our goal is to advocate for the active inclusion of conservation agriculture approach in the Bunda district agricultural plans.


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Godfrey K Magoma

e-course participant

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