Summary: Ntirankiza Misibo is an iAGRI-sponsored student at Sokoine University of Agriculture in Morogoro, Tanzania. Ntirankiza is an agricultural education and extension master’s scholar whose research investigates smallholder farmer practices and post-harvest losses amongst maize farmers within the Kilosa district in hopes of informing future extension education efforts intended to increase productivity and reduce losses. Upon his expected graduation in 2014, Ntirankiza will resume his position within Tanzania’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives, where he is an agricultural officer in the Gaira district.
Sponsor: iAGRI is funded by USAID within its Feed the Future initiative and implemented by the Ohio State University Consortium (Ohio State University – lead institution, Iowa State University, Michigan State University, Tuskegee University, University of Florida, and Virginia Tech). Primary institutional stakeholders in Tanzania are Sokoine University of Agriculture and the Tanzanian Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security, and Cooperatives.
Polling for Productivity: Surveying Tanzania’s smallholder farmers to improve Extension Education
Halima Msabahabon has a suspicious look on her face from the moment she opens the narrow, weathered wooden door to her home. Nevertheless, she welcomes Ntirankiza Misibo, an iAGRI-sponsored student at Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA).
“Welcome,” Halima says in Swahili as she pulls a hand-hewn bench, polished smooth from years of use, from a nearby wall and gestures for Ntirankiza to have a seat. The elderly woman, her slightly stooped posture the result of years of field labor and household chores, crosses the hard-packed dirt floor of her kitchen to sit upon a low wooden stool next to a few pots that simmer upon a bed of smoldering charcoal. Two ragged brick holes in the exterior walls serve as windows for the makeshift kitchen.
Halima has already been informed by a local agricultural officer that Ntirankiza would be coming to interview her. Like all the survey participants, she’s skeptical of the visitor’s intent when she lets him in. Ntirankiza takes a seat on the offered bench and explains his study in a soothing tone. Within minutes of entering the woman’s home, Ntirankiza has eased Halima’s suspicions and has her laughing hysterically with her granddaughter. Ntirankiza has gained Halima’s trust, and she will gladly partake in his research survey. At house after house throughout the village, Nitirankiza gets hesitant participants to open up. Most even seem to enjoy the process.
“You have to become a friend of theirs,” says Ntirankiza. “That is the only technique behind it. You have to mold them. If you can make them happy in the process, they will participate. It can be very difficult. Sometimes we have to conduct these surveys in the afternoon, when everyone is very tired and coming back from their fields. They may not be in the mood to talk at all, or listen to jokes, so you have to read them and adjust your approach to their attitude. It’s a skill you’re born with, not something you learn.”
In another life, Ntirankiza might have been a great salesman. He has an affable ease that would allow him to sell snow to an Eskimo. In this life however, Ntirankiza is a 37 year-old graduate student from SUA in Morogoro, Tanzania, and on this day he’s in the village of Kimamba to collect data such as farm size, labor inputs, fertilizer and pesticide use, and crop yield from smallholder farmers. Ntirankiza hopes to better understand maize productivity and post-harvest losses in the Kilosa district so agricultural officers and extension agents like him can help farmers achieve greater productivity and smaller post-harvest losses.
“Most farmers in Tanzania don’t use inputs to maximize their outputs,” says Ntirankiza. “Most farmers use inputs carelessly. We can see that the population of Tanzania is growing and we need farms to be producing at their maximum potential for every acre if we’re to feed that population. I’m finding out why farms produce maize below that potential. With that knowledge, can we then educate them in a way that they can maximize their productive potential? That is one aspect of my research. The other is post-harvest losses. We find that in post-harvest, farmers lose a lot of maize. I want to determine why and how it is lost. Could we train the farmer somehow to prevent those losses?”
In addition to being an iAGRI-sponsored graduate student at SUA, Ntirankiza is an Agricultural Officer for Tanzania’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives (MAFC). He’s content with his current occupation and educational track and looks forward to advancing within the ranks of the Ministry following the completion of his degree. However, Ntirankiza was not always confident that his occupation suited him. Finding his ideal career was a long journey, filled with many restarts along the way.
As one of 12 children in a rural farming family, Ntirankiza originally hoped to get as far from farming as possible.
“I didn’t have any interest in farming,” recalls Ntirankiza. I saw that we were so poor. In a village we had this idea that the one that goes to school has a nice life. I thought that I needed to leave agriculture behind because I saw that it did not serve my parents well. So, early on I turned towards education so that I could be employed. I didn’t have any interest in farming.”
Nevertheless, Ntirankiza fulfilled his duties and responsibilities on the family farm.
“All of us brothers and sisters had to participate in the farming,” says Ntirankiza. “I remember going out to farm when I was young. We’d stay out in the field the entire day. We’d haul back firewood on our heads at the end of the day because we’d need it for fuel. The next day, we’d go out and do the same thing again.”
However, working the family farm did not deter goal-oriented Ntirankiza from pursuing another life through education. In primary school, he excelled in English, mathematics and the sciences. He continued to focus on sciences when he entered an agricultural secondary school, hoping he would eventually be admitted to the Tanzanian medical school.
“When I was sent to a secondary school that was agricultural, I hated it,” recalls Ntirankiza. Agriculture was just one of many subjects though, and I tried to excel in those other subjects because I wanted to be a doctor. I thought that would make me proud and allow me to earn a high income.”
As is the case with so many bright Tanzanians hoping to be admitted to the only medical school in the country, Ntirankiza’s hopes were dashed when he performed poorly on the college’s entrance exam. Left with a strong foundation in science but no career path, he completed teacher training and began teaching biology and chemistry in secondary school. However, Ntirankiza never felt at home in the classroom.
“Teaching must come from your heart,” says Ntirankiza. “You teach students according to how you think, but when you do that and you don’t see the students come around and adopt your mindset or make any progress, then it becomes so discouraging. I devoted four years to that, and I ended up hating it. That’s when I knew I wanted to go back into agriculture. Thankfully Sokoine University would take some of my credits, so I applied and was accepted.”
Ntirankiza earned his bachelor’s in agricultural extension and education in 2010 but was unable to find a position in the agricultural sector. To support his wife, children, and other dependent family members, he went back to teaching science. For two years he taught while keeping his eye out for career opportunities in agriculture and scholarship opportunities to continue his education. As luck would have it, Ntirankiza eventually found both. In 2011, he accepted a position as an agricultural officer in the District of Gaira, and in 2012 he was accepted to be an iAGRI-sponsored graduate student.
Although his job as an agriculture officer in an under-staffed region of Tanzania was challenging, Ntirankiza was finally satisfied professionally.
“Because there were few of us, I had many responsibilities,” says Ntirankiza. “I found that I occupied multiple positions, but now I was in agriculture and was communicating between upper and lower levels of government, so I’m much happier than I was when I was teaching.”
As Ntirankiza continued his work, he also began planning his master’s. First, he faced the difficult decision of where to complete his iAGRI-funded degree. Studying abroad was very appealing, but family obligations eventually led him to stay close to home and return to SUA.
“I thought, if I went to the USA, how would I care for my family and my brother’s family?” recalls Ntirankiza. “I stayed at Sokoine for them.”
With the location of his degree decided, his next hurdle was selecting a research topic with advice from his academic advisor, Dr. Damas Phillip.
“I started from scratch and it was very hard. I came up with something and my advisor refused it because the research was inadequate. I came up with something different and it was rejected again. Finally, with guidance from my supervisor and a lot of hours reading other research, I came up with my current research topic.”
Despite the difficulties of refining his research topic, Ntirankiza appreciates that his advisor has supported him throughout the process and finds particular value in Dr. Phillip’s research expertise.
“He’ll go through the writings and he’ll question the methods of analysis and the tools that I’ll use,” states Ntirankiza. “He’ll ask if the methods are correct and compatible with the research. If I’m out of line, he’ll guide me back in. He would say, ‘don’t worry, here are the steps. You have to do this, this and this, then you’ll be done.’”
With the development of his research behind him, Ntirankiza is relieved to be in his element, going door to door and surveying local farmers. House after house, he inquires about the farmer’s practices both pre- and post-harvest. Later, Ntirankiza will analyze the data and hopes to draw conclusions about how government agencies and extension personnel can help farmers increase productivity and reduce post-harvest losses. He’s hopeful about the potential of his research for not only Tanzania’s agricultural future but for all of East Africa’s.
“In Africa, we have never exploited the potential of the land,” claims Ntirankiza. “After reading my research, governments, NGO’s, whomever, can see how they can train farmers to teach them how to maximize their potential and that increased production will be able to feed Africa’s growing population. A lot of research has been done to see how to better train farmers about how to produce, but very little has been done to teach them how to minimize post-harvest losses. My research will help understand that side of it as well.”
Ntirankiza is especially grateful for the opportunity to carry out his research as part of iAGRI because he feels its organization and capacity building activities have prepared him to be a better researcher and agricultural professional.
“iAGRI has played a great role. It has ensured that I am trained in a different manner than those that came before. They understand that I need to be professional and have very specific knowledge and skills. I’ve been trained through numerous workshops that iAGRI has organized and supervised. They have not only given me the funds to complete my degree but they have given me the skills. Those skills do not come from Sokoine but from iAGRI because they are organized to provide them.”
In Kimamba on this particularly sunny late-afternoon, Ntirankiza has used his skills as a professional researcher, as well as his innate ability to connect with complete strangers, to conduct 13 of the 15 surveys he’d hoped to get by the day’s end. Quite a few farmers have already returned from laboring in the fields, so a small audience of curious bystanders gathers to listen as he interviews a farmer who lives on the village’s main thoroughfare. The farmer, a middle-aged man, lean, muscular and fit from farm labor, is especially agreeable after he and Ntirankiza exchange greetings and a few jokes. He has a particularly large family, and thus a large pool of laborers, most of whom surround their father and Ntirankiza. They’re all contributing answers to the survey, replies coming from all directions while Ntirankiza swivels his head back and forth to address each of them.
When one of the teenage sons confirms that they lose maize in post-harvest, Ntirankiza follows up by asking the family why they suspect that is the case.
“Because of witches,” replies one of the sons after a long pause, causing the entire family, Ntirankiza and all of the bystanders to erupt in laughter.
Minutes later, en route to conduct his final survey of the day, an exhausted but happy Ntirankiza explains the exchange at the previous house.
“I think the boy was serious when he answered ‘witches.,’ says Ntirankiza, still chuckling to himself. “Some of Africa still has very traditional and superstitious beliefs, so I’ll get answers like that.”
If Ntirankiza’s research is successful, future agricultural officers investigating post-harvest losses will not be confronted with such replies. Thanks to the efforts of Nitirankiza and other like-minded researchers, farmers will have the knowledge and expertise needed to ensure that Africa is agriculturally productive and food secure.
If you would like additional information on Ntirankiza Misibo’s research or the opportunity to sponsor his research further, please contact us.
All images and story by iAGRI photographer and writer Tyler Jones.