Farming systems and indigenous technologies of finger millet (Elusine coracana) production in Southwestern Tanzania

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Kyoto University


Vaiinas pioduction practices for finger millet are found in Southwestern Tanzania even today when staple food has changed Io maize in many pails ol lan/ania. Demand for brewing has made tingei millet an impoilant cash ciop in Mbo/i. Ileje, Sumbawanga and Nkasi Dishii'ts under present rnaikel oriented socio economic environment. louml wavs ol llicii innovating indigenous technologies to balance the I*'armeis household l'1'OIIOIIiy. these practices and all influencing factors characlcii/e the farming, systems of Hie Despite inherent eiiviionmenlal degradation and almost exclusive use of li.idilional technology, the Inline ol finger millet production is still promising, socio i idfiii.dlv ami in specific situations technological!y. b'or these reasons, research has been can icd out wit h the aim Io: I) identity ami classily the divcisc linger millet production systems in Southwestern I in ama Ihioiigh (aiming systems appioach that includes various components analysis ami inteiaetions. liml out socio cultural ami socio economic backguitinds associated with the systems. i) figinc out tingei millet production systems as an innovative process (hat has been developed through hisloiical and environmental interactions. I) claiily (he iide of indigenous technologies in the light of agronomic sciences throng,h on laim experimentation at laimcis’ field, and extract the basic strategies embedded in (he system. Ixlcnsive suivcys in Rnkwa and Mbeya Reg,ions and intensive survey in Mbo/i District were conducted to collect information on finger millet production systems dining 2000 and .*00.’. On farm field experiments were conducted to clarify agronomic significance of indigenous technologies ami farmers' practices riming, (wo crop seasons in 2001 and .’00.*. Through the suivcy, nine land preparation techniques were identified in (he field, namely: slash and burn (iitemcle and nkoimniji/ti variants), mounds (nttimbti), ox­ ploughing with cultivated fallow, ox-ploughing with un-cultivated fallow, burnt mounds (iikule), with cultivated fallow, with un-cultivated fallow and hand-hoe cultivation, and with consideration of intensity of rotation, they were grouped into I) shifting, cultivation, ii) fallow and iii) continuous cultivation farming systems; and further, iiififteen cultivation systems were categorized. The “’cultivated fallow” or kuvuiidika practice was found to be a common characteristic of all finger millet cultivation systems in the study area except slash and burn, nkule and continuous cultivation. 1 his practice is a very important indigenous farmers’ strategy for soil fertility and good physical structure assurance via decomposition and rainwater infiltration, and manpower management during critical period. Finger millet in Southwestern Tanzania is usually planted as an opening crop and essentially as a monocrop in different cultivation systems. Livestock keeping has been found to be particularly important for households that practice ox-ploughing. Among socio-economic parameters, household size, available workforce and possession of cattle were strongly related with the level of finger millet cultivation. Ox-ploughers cultivated more acreage and produced more of the crop, thus also obtaining more cash out of it. When coupled with “cultivated fallow” (kuvuiidika') practice, ox-ploughing has become almost insatiable in household labour saving. Particularly during planting, labour saving is of un-parallelcd importance, because of erratic rainfall of the period. Other cultivation practices also focus on reducing manpower requirements during peak period, such as kuvuiidika cultivation during previous crop season accompanied later with very easy re-cultivation (breaking of iitumba, nkule mounds, ridges or re-cultivating ox- ploughed fields) prior to sowing, or absolutely no ploughing with slash-and-burn cultivation. Ox-ploughing and kuvuiidika practice indicate evolutionary trends in cultivation technology in response to diminishing woodland through slash-and-burn cultivation. Another environmentally sensitive issue is an expansion of crop fields associated with ox-ploughing as a way to counteract declining soil fertility when ash-based fertility of slash-and-burn system cannot be practiced. Thus, cultivation technology seems to follow the reverse order of woodland preservation from Fipaland (origin of iitumba cultivation) and Nyihaland where break-down of slash-and-burn cultivation evolved the nkule system to Nyamwangaland where there are still comparatively rich woodlands. Great diversity ivof the cultivation systems found in Mbozi District is associated with the adoption of ntumba system from Fipaland, and nkule system from Nyihaland. Introduction of ox­ ploughing in all research areas after 1950s helped increase the importance of maize as a staple food, but did not wipe out the motivation of cultivating finger millet. This signifies the importance of indigenous technological innovation, and calls for re- evaluation of indigenous systems as sustainable development pathways. On-farm experimentation was conducted in 2001 and 2002 in Mbozi District for comparative examination of different cultivation systems in terms of crop performance and change in soil characteristics. Crop growth and yield increased remarkably with slash-and-burn and nkule cultivation. Yield component analysis revealed that yield of linger millet is composed mainly of plant density and panicle weight. The experiments demonstrated that the main aim of indigenous cultivation is to increase plant establishment by improving soil condition particularly soil nutrients and pH. Yield increase in 2001 slash-and-burn (nteniele} plots was associated with decreasing plant density and increased panicle weight per plant. This shows that plants start to compete for nutrients and sunlight after certain level of crowdness, if nutrient supply is sufficient. The importance of early stage of growth (seedling vigour) was demonstrated by a strong correlation between seedling growth and panicle size. All cultivation systems investigated had remarkable influence on seedling vigour as a result of improved soil fertility and physical characteristics. Unique to some of the areas of this research and most unlikely to be found anywhere else world-wide is the submersion and soaking processing techniques practiced on finger millet after harvest. Practical and physiological significance of this technology was experimentally validated. Farming systems analysis of finger millet cultivation in Southwestern Tanzania thus facilitates not only to understand indigenous technologies on scientific basis, but also to clarify the basic strategics embedded in the systems. Unlike modern farming systems, maximizing healthy growth of individual plants under regulated plant population is not the main idea in the indigenous finger millet production. Rather, main effort is made in increasing the number of plants to survive until harvest by producing favorable Vconditions first for seedling emergence and establishment, then plant growth, within available resources and technologies. The evolution of indigenous finger millet farming systems in Southwestern Tanzania gives an example of an agricultural development pathway even today when staple food has shifted to maize, for socio-culturally oriented indigenous way of thinking is a base for future sustainable resource management.



Elusine coracana, Southwestern Tanzania, Farming systems, Finger millet production, Indigenous technologies