Meet the Farmer: Beno Mgaya – King of the Potatoes

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Beno Mgaya engaging a farmer at his exhibition stand at the Nane Nane grounds in Mbeya 2018

Beno Mgaya, 52, is no stranger to potatoes, in 1984, a neighbour in his village returned from Israel with new farming technologies and two new Irish potato seed varieties, which he cultivated with new fertilizer. Soon one man’s knowledge transformed a village with more farmers cultivating the two Irish potato varieties. 6 years later the man passed away, but the skills and techniques he introduced were employed for the next 25 years, which eventually hit a plateau.

In late 2015, farmers in Njombe region were invited to a workshop run by the SAGCOT Centre in partnership with the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), to educate farmers on new Irish potato seed varieties. Mgaya and farmers from his village signed up to cultivate the new crop in the pilot demo farm. The crop was promising but was attacked by an aggressive strain of potato blight, which destroyed various parts of the potato crop.

“We worked diligently to fight the blight and saved most of the potatoes, and harvested the crop.”Mgaya states.

In March 2016, the excited farmers sold their potato harvest of 10 tonnes to markets in Mtwara region in the Coast of Tanzania. Following this success, the farmers divided the seedlings of the new Irish potato varieties and cultivated the crop, with some farmers requesting for more technical skills training and more demonstration farms funded across 5 more villages which SAGCOT Centre supported. This was the beginning of a potato revolution across villages in the Njombe region.

Many of the farmers formed and legally registered associations. Mgaya chairs one such association; the Lusitu Agribusiness Group, one among 7 registered farmers’ associations in his village which produces 50 tonnes of potatoes weekly during harvest season.

In late 2016, the farmers partnered and agreed on a 50 percent cost share to build a pack house with Kilimo Trust, a SAGCOT Partner. The packhouse would serve as storage, packing, processing and marketing location for their potatoes. Through another partnership with TanzaniceAgrofoods Ltd; the farmer’s associations owning the packhouse will receive a grader machine for use to pack their potatoes in 20,50, 75 and 100 kg packages.  Through this investment, industrialization is being heralded in Lushitu village.

The farmer associations have now signed a contract with a processing company in Dar es Salaam which has paid TZS 8 million (USD 3,500) for 10 tonnes of potato seedling from Tanzanice Agrofoods Ltd, to be disbursed to the farmers. Through this contract, we witness Lushitu farmers proudly contributing to the development of a young potato processing industry in Tanzania.

“We have organized a planting and harvesting schedule to ensure the factory has a steady supply of potatoes. We will ensure 280 acres are dedicated to supplying the processor.”Mgaya points out.

The farmers’ association also expects to commence export to Comoros Island soon.

Mgaya also leads a team of trainers of trainers (ToT) scheduled to train 6 more potato farmer associations on agribusiness best practices. The demand for training is growing thick and fast, “we have people calling us from Mafinga, Mfindi, Rungwe, Bozi, Sumbawanga and Ndaga to train their farmers on agribusiness,”Mgaya states.

Mgaya and his team have an interesting training model; after the initial training on potato agribusiness farmers are encouraged to legally formalize associations and open bank accounts. The farmers are further linked to organisations such as Stawisha, Mtanga Foods, Tanzanice, Yara and Bayer who work with these new farmers’ associations to establish demonstration plots in these new areas. Mgaya and his team have trained over 50 farmers associations in just 18 months totalling 1,600 farmers.

But even with all this growth they still experience some setbacks. Transportation to markets is still expensive; there is a need for machinery to cultivate, irrigate and spray the fields.

Mgaya is not leaving it at that, “we also need to pay close attention to soil health to ensure our crop yield remains optimal.”

Mgaya is optimistic, “Njombe is transformed from potatoes. People are educating their children, building homes of TZS 50 million (USD 22,000) and buying motorbikes from potato cultivation. In five years, farmers will no longer use hand hoes, they will use tractors they own or have leased from the pack house,” he enthuses.

Mgaya sees a future of automated agriculture with mechanical planting, spraying and harvest of potatoes which reduces the time and cost of growing the crop, which will make their potatoes more competitive.

“We thank SAGCOT Centre for what they’ve done; no week goes by before they call to check up on our progress. They have linked us with financial institutions, Bayer and Tanzanice; which we now partner with and provide innovative solutions to grow our production and improve our crops.”Mgaya enthusiastically concludes.

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