Tanzania: Intercropping and companion planting get results

Oliva Lawrence-Mchomba is a former house Mama at Kesho Leo, now she's employed as a farmer

Oliva Lawrence-Mchomba is a former “House Mama [meaning she took care of kids]” at Kesho Leo, now she’s employed as a farmer

Just three kilometres south of Arusha’s dusty, congested streets, the village of Engo Sengiu sits at the end of a long, bumpy dirt road, surrounded by fertile farmland. The village’s rutted roads are bordered everywhere by lush, green vegetation invigorated by the recent rains. John Melau-Laizer grew up here studying his father’s planting techniques, the same techniques he now uses himself.

He remembers: “I started farming when I was 15 years old. My father grew maize, beans, bananas, cassava, [and] pigeon peas as well as coffee. I learned so much from him about companion planting, how to grow [different] crops in close proximity.”

Mr. Melau-Laizer, 35 years old, now works for FoodWaterShelter, or FWS, an Australian non-governmental organization based in Tanzania. FWS built a self-sustaining, eco-friendly school and residence called Kesho Leo, or Tomorrow Today, in Engo Sengiu. Kesho Leo provides educational, social and health facilities for vulnerable women and children.

FWS uses permaculture on its one-hectare farm. Permaculture is a system for designing sustainable human settlements. Mr. Melau-Laizer runs the organic agriculture and aquaculture projects and tends to the cows, chickens and ducks. These provide food and income for the six women and 12 orphaned children who live at Kesho Leo.

Lucy Bradley is the project manager at Kesho Leo. She explains: “We are improving the health of everyone at Kesho Leo by eating a broad range of fruits and vegetables grown here. We also sell and deliver the vegetables all over [the city of] Arusha as an income-generating project for the women.”

Kesho Leo is designed to be sustainable. Rainwater is collected on the building’s rooftop and piped to huge tanks underground. Human waste is composted behind the home in large barrels and used as fertilizer for crops. Cow manure is also collected and used in vegetable plots.

Two nearby ponds with ducks and tilapia provide water for the farm, while a stable of four cows provides up to sixty litres of milk per day. Meanwhile, 45 chickens produce enough to ensure a daily egg for each resident, providing essential protein and other nutrients.

Mr. Melau-Laizer says his proudest achievement is the intercropping techniques he learned from his father, techniques which he has improved over the years.

John Melaulaizer takes a pause from work on the Kesho Leo farm

John Melau-Laizer inspects the vegetables on Kesho Leo’s farm

He kneels down to inspect the sweet potatoes growing next to the Napier grass used as cattle feed. Mr. Melau-Laizer says: “Intercropping is important because it keeps pests away. Here, I’ve planted companion crops: mango, cassava and sweet potato. The aromatic Napier grass distracts pests and improves soil fertility.”

Intercropping acts as a natural form of pest management. Mr. Melau-Laizer has also planted neem. Neem is a medicinal tree which acts as an organic pesticide. He grounds neem leaves to a fine powder and soaks them in water for 12 to 24 hours. The solution is sprayed on crops as a pest repellent to protect them from damage.

According to Ms. Bradley, permaculture could play a huge role in improving livelihoods for farming families across sub-Saharan Africa. As part of the FWS team, Mr. Melau-Laizer’s knowledge and practice of permaculture is creating a ripple effect in Tanzania. He has trained many local small-scale farmers on permaculture techniques.

Mr. Melau-Laizer has completed several permaculture design courses. He says, “I train local women and children from Kesho Leo and Engo Sengiu village on different aspects of permaculture. I teach them about sustainable farming practices.”

FoodWaterShelter is running a permaculture design course at its Kesho Leo site from May 26 – June 6. For further information, email pdc@foodwatershelter.org.au

Published online @ Farm Radio Weekly

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About

Adam Bemma is a journalist and media development advisor working in East Africa and Southeast Asia.

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