After years of struggles, a group of women farmers in a remote rural area of Tanzania are finally profiting and forging an enterprise based on local farmers’ high demand for certified seed of sorghum, a dryland crop first domesticated in Africa and used in food and drink, livestock feed and even building materials.
Based in Usoche village, Momba District, Songwe Region, Tanzania, the Jitegemee womens group formed in 2018 to improve their livelihoods through sorghum production. In 2022 the group produced and marketed over 3 tons of certified seed, benefiting from access to foundation and certified seed with support from project partnerships and linkages to global and local initiatives.
“Through us, many women are now educated and motivated to engage in seed production,” said Rodha Daudi Tuja, a representative of the Jitegemee group. “I think in the next season we are going to have many women seed entrepreneurs.”
Based on seed companies’ inability to fully satisfy farmers’ high demand for quality seed of sorghum, the social and behavior change interventions component of the Dryland Crops program of CIMMYT, an international research organization with longstanding partnerships and impacts in eastern and southern Africa, worked with Tanzania’s Centre for Behaviour Change and Communication (CBCC) to encourage youth and women to engage in the seed business, including marketing. Banking on previous experience, the initiative helped the women raise awareness among farmers about the value of quality, improved seed, using fliers, posters, t-shirts and caps.
“The CIMMYT behavior change interventions and CBCC reached us through youth champions who trained us on the features and benefits of improved sorghum seed,” explained Tuja.
Especially important was training the women received to grow “quality declared seed” (QDS) at an event for 18 women and youth in Mbozi district conducted by The Tanzania Official Seed Certification Institute (TOSCI). QDS offers reliable quality in seed at an affordable price to farmers but is not formally inspected by official seed certification systems.
Immediately after the training, the group purchased 12 kilograms of foundation seed—genetically uniform seed that, when grown under controlled results, produces seed of ensured genetic purity and varietal identity—of the popular Macia sorghum variety from the Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute (TARI) at Hombolo. They multiplied that seed following meticulous quality protocols on a leased, 1.6-hectare farm.
A previous arrangement to grow seed for a local company had fallen through after one cropping season, and the Jitegemee group ended up recycling the seed and growing it for grain for sale. Still, the group realized that selling seed could be a lucrative business, if they could only gain access to foundation seed or certified seed. As part of growing pains during that period, the group lost half its members.
“Before our contact with the CIMMYT project we had a lot of challenges,” Tuja said. “First, we did not know about improved seed, we couldn’t access information about new farming technologies, and we were doing subsistence agriculture. However, after the project we were able to access seed and information at the Youth Quality Centres and through radio programs.”
“I advise youth and my fellow women to join us because, before, we had no hope in sorghum production but now we are prospering. The demand for sorghum seed is very high, a lot of farmers are now demanding improved seeds, and our group alone cannot meet the growing demand for seed.”
We gratefully acknowledge Florian Ndyamukama, Centre for Behaviour Change and Communication (CBCC), Tanzania, for contributing this story.