Although MRHP originally began with the aim of helping the rural population in the Mwanza Region to improve their housing conditions, adoption of the new building technologies was not as fast as had been expected, mainly because farmers simply did not have the financial resources needed to buy the materials and tools required. Their incomes had been declining for a number of years as a result of over-exploitation of the land, declining soil fertility, poor seed quality and unreliable markets.
MRHP therefore decided to address this issue by helping farmers increase their income through cash crops, helping them to have sustainable, independent livelihoods. In partnership with Catholic Relief Services, it started the “Missungwi Grain Legume Project”, with the goal of achieving a sustainable increase in cash income for farmers through increased production and marketing of cash crops.
The Mwanza area is good for grain legumes, or pulses, such as greengrams, lentils, chickpeas and peanuts, which as well as being potential cash crops, also fix atmospheric nitrogen in the ground. MRHP helps farmers to grow these by giving them seeds for new, improved varieties that are drought-resistant and highly productive. When the crop is harvested, farmers have enough to sell for cash in the market, as well as to return the original weight of seeds to MRHP for further distribution.
To ensure farmers have full benefit from these initiatives, MRHP uses its village outreach services to introduce good land preparation and soil conservation techniques to reduce farming workload, increase the areas cultivated and save time. Farmers are also shown how to measure the cost-effectiveness and profitability of their investments in these projects.
Farmers work together with MRHP to develop crop marketing centres and future plans include adding value through small food processing plants in rural areas.
Traditionally, farmers in the Mwanza region concentrated on growing a small range of crops, such as maize and millet. With MRHP assistance, they are encouraged to grow a variety of additional crops, including chickpea, rice, greengrams, sunflower and cowpeas, all of which grow rapidly in this environment and can provide a profitable cash crop. Seeds are distributed to selected farmers, who after harvest will have sufficient for personal use, to sell for food and also to distribute among their neighbours, thereby disseminating to technology throughout the area. Training in seed multiplication techniques is also given
An important route to curbing food insecurity is for groups of farmers to establish grain banks (Bank Mazao), storing produce at times of plenty, so that later in the season they have sufficient to feed themselves and also to sell at a time when the price is higher. Both rice and chickpeas have proved excellent cash crops for deployment in this manner.