Tanzanian farmers find solutions to salt-affected soils and dwindling rice yields

 Veronica Mae Escarez   |  

Increased soil salinity can lead to significant problems such as reduced plant growth, plant water stress and nutrient imbalance, and soil degradation. Ultimately, it causes decreased plant yields, less income for farmers, and potentially higher food prices for consumers. A study showed that Tanzanian rice farmers have adapted locally available and affordable solutions to cope with high soil salinity.

Tanzanian rice farmers in Mbarali, Iringa, Same, and Moshi Districts are experiencing a major decline and even total losses in rice yields under extreme conditions. The problem is a threat to food security and is primarily driven by climate change. (Photo: Climate-smart African rice)

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Working under ClimateSmart African rice, a project that develops flood- and salinity-tolerant rice in an African context, researchers from Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA), the University of Copenhagen, and the Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute presented management practices developed by Tanzanian farmers to help them deal with high salinity levels in their rice lands.

“The problem of salt-affected soils and dwindling rice yields are increasing across many irrigation schemes in the country,” says Susan Nchimbi Msolla, a professor at SUA’s College of Agriculture. “Knowing that the farmers are aware of the problem and that they have their ways of combating the problem is very important for researchers before introducing new interventions such as salt-tolerant varieties.”

Soil salinity occurs when there is an increased level of soluble salts or sodium in the soil. This may be caused by irrigation practices, inadequate drainage systems, and the natural weathering of minerals. Increased soil salinity can lead to significant problems such as reduced plant growth, plant water stress and nutrient imbalance, and soil degradation. Ultimately, it causes decreased plant yields, less income for farmers, and potentially higher food prices for consumers.

That is the case in Mbarali, Iringa, Same, and Moshi Districts where rice farmers are experiencing a major decline and even total losses in rice yields under extreme conditions. The problem is a threat to food security and is primarily driven by climate change.

But how do rice farmers respond to this serious threat to their harvests and livelihoods?

The research team revealed that, as a coping mechanism, farmers have adapted locally available and affordable solutions such as applying farmyard manure, unburnt and burnt rice husk, and burnt rice straw during land preparation. Some farmers also practice using water to flush excess salts although this method is highly dependent on water availability.

Gypsum, the most important and effective soil amendment material, is also used to remove excess salt to improve soil nutrients but its use has declined due to high transportation costs.

The researchers recommend providing more support to farmers by training them on effective and affordable management technologies to improve rice production in salt-affected lands. They also suggest ensuring a systematized breeding of salt-tolerant rice varieties and performing critical soil characterization of salt-affected soils to increase rice yields in affected areas.

“It’s important to strengthen farmers’ knowledge and practices to stop the dwindling rice production and ultimately help contribute to food security,” says Dr. Mawazo Shitindi from the Department of Soil and Geological Sciences at the SUA.

Read the study:
Omar M, Shitindi MJ,  Massawe BHJ,  Fue KG,  Pedersen O, & Meliyo JL (2022) Exploring farmers’ perception, knowledge, and management techniques of salt-affected soils to enhance rice production on small land holdings in Tanzania. Cogent Food & Agriculture, 8:1

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