A farmer can talk more about rain than a meteorologist. At least that’s true for my dad.
Our home, Mbuyuni Farm, lies in the watershed of the Ngerengere River part of the Morogoro Region, Tanzania. Three decades of farming have taken us through many floods but even more droughts.
Simply put, the more deforestation in our ecosystem (particularly in the Uluguru Mountains), the less reliable the rainfall in our watershed. Throw a changing climate and increasing demands for resources in the mix and it becomes clear: water availability is a growing concern. But there are solutions.
Forests provide microclimate resilience. They create and hold resources, including water. On Mbuyuni Farm we protect bush strips between fields, let the bush regenerate on around 40% of the farm, and plant native trees.
Power and water supplies are inextricably linked in Tanzania where hydroelectricity provides the majority of power. Water shortages result in power cuts.
We built rainwater catchments improved our water supply and solar power gave our farm retreat more reliable electricity.
By observing the flows of water, sand, and silt on the farm, we have dug out water catchment reservoirs, selected where to set our fields, and made use of the sand in our buildings. That said, even careful planning will not wholly account for the force nature can be.
You are looking at our nursery on the left and our compost piles stand to the right of the nursery. An overflowing water reservoir lies to the right of the compost piles. Above the nursery you can see a flooded field of moringa oleifera trees.
Planting the seeds or seedlings of your crops needs to be timed to ensure an adequate water supply in the weeks to maturity; too much rain at the wrong time will also damage crops by washing them out, increasing the risk of pests.
We selected crops for drought tolerance (avoiding water-intensive cultures to minimize irrigation.) Of the 350 hectares that comprise Mbuyuni Farm, 200 hectares are for ecological reserves and agroforestry.
Agroforestry is the cultivation of trees synchronized with the surrounding ecology and agroecology is the farming equivalent. Around 40% of the farm is bush. We plant predominantly indigenous trees in areas needing reforestation and in between our fields (which average out at a moderate two hectares) we leave bushstrips (spaces where the natural vegetation is undisturbed) between fields. While bush strips lower yields on the edges of fields, they provide habitat for a diversity of species and act as breaks against pests.
Organic farming is all about getting the timing right and working with, not against, your surroundings.