Simple innovation changing farmers’ fortunes

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Smallholder farmers in Tanzania are increasingly taking to sesame farming because of its drought resistant qualities. It is more resilient climate change related impacts.

Constantine Martin, a primary school leaver, who hails from Babati District in northern Tanzania has invented a simple and cost-effective machine that makes it easier to plant sesame seeds.

Martin, 42, began developing his invention after receiving training in modern sesame farming by a London-based international development charity, Farm Africa, which helps farmers grow more, sell more and sell for more.

The hand-pushed planting machine dubbed ‘Coasta Planter’ makes the planting of sesame seeds easier and upscale production.

Sesame farming in Tanzania has traditionally been by hand, a tough, tedious and time consuming work where farmers dig individual holes a few centimetres deep for each seed, then go back and forth along their plots dropping seeds.  It also causes back pain.

He saw this gap and developed the technology now being adopted by many farmers.

Martin says: “Sesame is a drought-resistant crop and many farmers were encouraged to get into this kind of farming but the challenge was on how to plant the sesame seeds, which are very small.”

“I used to farm sesame using outdated farming practices, which didn’t transform my income and livelihood. Planting was [a] tedious job as my wife and I had to go back and forth in our five acre plot, which meant we had to walk more than 20km,” adds Martin who is a member of one of Farm Africa’s co-operatives that brings members together to negotiate better prices for their crops, and gain access to improved seed varieties, inputs and training.

Martin’s entrepreneurial skills has increased his income since 2009 from about UK£95 (US$124) to UK£1888 (US$1,437) a year. He has expanded his business, farming 3.5 acres in 2016 up from one acre in 2013. Also, he has purchased 16 goats, nine cattle, and 34 improved chickens, and plans to begin fish farming. Martin has also set up a small food and drinks business for his wife, and plans his own agro-mechanisation company.

Farm Africa officer, Tumaini Elibariki, explains that they train and teach farmers about technical processes and test different technologies. “I also link local communities with researchers. I find out what is being developed and I share with our farmers.”

Martin is one of Farm Africa champion farmers Elibariki took with a group to visit a research institution. “After that Martin developed the idea of welding a stick with three metal prongs so farmers could create three planting lines at a time, reducing the time it takes to sew a field by two thirds.”

“He further developed his invention so that as well as creating three lines where the sesame can be planted, it now has three holders where the farmer adds a combination of seeds with sand. Every 15 centimetres a small amount of mixture drops into the furrow and then the Coasta Planter covers it with soil,” Elibariki tells SciDev.Net.

Martin says: “I share what I have learnt with others and so far have provided training for almost 500 farmers. I also manufacture and sell my planter and those who cannot afford to buy hire one. Up to now around 1200 farmers are using my rake planter and about 90 are using the Costa Planter.”