Interview with Biosustain about RCS in Tanzania

In an interview with Tawanda Mutonhori, Project Manager at Biosustain we can peek behind the curtains of the first Regenerative Cotton Standard® (RCS) pilot.

Mr. Mutonhori, could you tell us in a nutshell the benefits of regenerative agriculture and where in Tanzania the new Regenerative Cotton Standard of AbTF is already introduced in a pilot project?

Regenerative agriculture is a farming strategy that uses natural processes to increase biological activities in the soil, enhances soil health, improves nutrient cycling, restore landscape functions and produce food and fiber preferably at minimum costs.  Tanzania’s cotton farming community, particularly some parts of the Western cotton growing regions namely Singida Tabora, Shinyanga and Simiyu regions, welcomes with great pleasure the introduction of Regenerative Cotton Standard (RCS).

What advantages does RCS offer smallholder farmers?

The objective of RCS in Tanzania is to insure improved agricultural productivity, enhanced climate change resilience, strengthened food security systems and nutrition as well as increased income for smallholder farmers.

What role does Biosustain Tanzania Ltd play in the implementation of RCS?

In support of this effort by AbTF, Biosustain Tanzania Ltd has started training farmers about Regenerative Cotton Standard in Ikungi, Mkalama, Iramba and Kishapu. To date about 6,000 famers have so far been trained, and the company is targeting to reach almost 9,000 farmers trained by the end of the 2023/ 2024 farming season.

That’s a big number. How do you organize all these trainings?

Farmer training is done through organized centre-based training of trainer (ToT) sessions where Field Extension Officers receive the training at first from experienced RCS facilitators. The lead farmers then pass on the training to the subsequent farmers, who are already organized in small groups of 20 to 30 farmers per group.

What helped Biosustain to successfully introduce RCS in Tansania?

More ideas on how to implement the RCS came as a result of the Regenerative Production Landscape (RPL) Gap Analysis that was conducted by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH (GIZ). Some of the identified gaps, which RCS seeks to address include, low crop productivity due to lack of knowledge in terms of regenerative farming practices, lack of knowledge on the importance of crop diversification, environmental pollution, natural ways to improve soil health, minimum soil tillage practices, crop rotation and intercropping among others.

Healthy soil please a key role in regenerative agriculture. Additionlly, RCS also has an eye on animal welfare. What is the situation in Tanzania in this respect?

Land degradation through animal movements to and from the water sources and the grazing areas was among the identified gaps resulting in soil erosion which in turn affects water bodies and aquatic life. And there is a lot to be done to improve animal welfare through farmer training and community sensitization.

What agricultural practices and behaviors have already changed among smallholders?

Through the introduction of RCS, farmers are being trained on the importance of planting trees. They are discouraged as much as possible from engaging in unnecessary cutting down of trees playing a pivotal role in carbon sequestration hence mitigating the effects of climate change. Farmers are being training on Good Organic Agricultural Practices (GOAP) using the ‘Five Finger Approach’ to improve farm resilience.

What are the most important things that farmers learn in the training sessions in order to farm according to RCS criteria?

Surely this includes using organic means of pest control instead of dangerous pesticides. That is why farmers are also trained in the preparation and use of organic pesticides such as the use of solanum fruits or powder, neem trees and others. These are ecofriendly as they help to increase the population of beneficiary insects as well as the beneficiary micro-organisms which play an important role in fixing very huge amounts of carbon in the soil. They now know how to use molasses traps to reduce pest attacks in crop fields.

What measure help the farmers to boost soil fertility?

One great example is that they learned how cow dung treated seed at planting and that cow dung also helps to increase the number of micro-organisms in the soil. It also helps to give the important basic nutrients to the growing seedling which makes the seedling grow healthier. Cow dung also controls soil born disease in the cotton field. The use of livestock urine is also a booster for plant nutrients and hence result in improved crop yield. Farmers have also been introduced to the preparation and use of biochar which is the most recent farming innovation meant to improve soil fertility.

What is the significance of crop rotation in this context?

Crop rotation is primarily done to improve soil fertility, reduce soil erosion, and interrupt the life cycle of pests and diseases. Additionally, the inclusion of legume crop in a rotation helps to fix huge amounts of nitrogen in the soil and hence results in enhanced farmer’s yield.

What positive impact do you see in the introduction of RCS in Tanzania? Do you already notice changes?

RCS in Tanzania will help to mitigate the emissions of greenhouse gas emissions as through maintaining a flourishing green landscape and restoration of ecosystem services, huge amounts of carbon is sequestered by both trees and the living micro-organisms in the soil. This helps to reduce the impact of climate change.

The usage of biopesticides by our farmers during pest control preserves the loss of biodiversity at farm level. Beneficiary insects, pollinators and beneficiary micro-organisms are preserved. This helps to ensure a sustainable productivity. RCS also improves soil fertility by increasing biomass production, hence resulting in reduced land degradation. Fertile soils also help to ensure healthier plants which can be able to protect themselves against pests and diseases. Also respecting animal needs is a must under the RCS. Once animal needs are respected, it therefore means animals become more productive and easier to handle to the farmer, hence the farmers become productive as well.

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