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With its political stability and dynamic economy, Tanzania is seen as having great agricultural potential. Yet, three quarters of Tanzanian farms are small scale and low yielding, and semi-arid rural areas suffer from high malnutrition and food insecurity levels. ICRISAT mandate crops such as pigeonpea, groundnut or millet are key for the livelihoods of many Tanzanian smallholders. Strategic and impactful partnerships with research and development organizations are helping to scale up agriculture innovations in Tanzania’s drylands.

42% - Percentage of children under five being stunted in Tanzania

68% - Share of Tanzania's population living on less than US$  1.25 a day

70 to 100% - Aflatoxin contamination of main crop in Tanzania 

3 fold - Production increase of pigeonpea and chickpea in Tanzania from 2000 to 2012 (FAOstat)


General context

Sharing borders with 8 countries and the Indian Ocean on the East, the United Republic of Tanzania is a very diverse country (120 tribes)  in Eastern Africa. It boasts of long-lasting internal peace and about 20 years of rapid economic growth. Over 20% of the territory is under protection with world renowned natural parks and an enviable biodiversity.

Despite continuous progress, poverty, food insecurity and malnutrition are high, in particular in the arid and semi-arid rural regions where most families are subsistence farmers. Infant and maternal mortality rates remain among the highest in the world, literacy rates are low and more than one-third (42%) of all children under five are stunted.

Over the last few years, Tanzania's arid and semi-arid Central and Northern regions (such as Dodoma and Shinyanga) which are prone to frequent droughts, flash floods and other climate shocks, have experienced food shortages. The situation may worsen as Tanzania experiences very rapid demographic growth (+3% per year).

Agriculture is key to the livelihoods of many Tanzanian people, employing about 80% of the population and representing about 25% of the GDP and 85% of the exports. With abundant land and water resources, a dynamic private agricultural sector, and access to international markets through a major port, Tanzanian agriculture has great potential. The government’s agriculture strategy, Kilimo Kwanza or agricultural transformation (from subsistence to commercial farming), aims at increasing agricultural production and productivity through public-private partnership, with, in particular, the flagship Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania programme (SAGCOT).

However, small-scale farmers, about 75% of the population of 46 million people, suffer from very low productivity. Some of the main constraints are: poor access and low use of improved seeds and fertilizers, rare irrigation and vulnerability to a highly variable climate. Another issue is the remoteness of many regions, especially the drylands, which are not connected to main marketplaces and related services (credit, extension, etc).

Key documents on Tanzania agriculture

Rural country profile for Tanzania (IFAD)

Farm productivity of dryland farmers can be improved with better seeds and practices and natural resource management

To boost agricultural productivity in the drylands of Tanzania, ICRISAT is looking at the various issues along the dryland cereals and legumes value chain, through a holistic approach from crop improvement to linking farmers to markets.

Under the Africa Rising program, ICRISAT looks at intensifying maize-legume-based systems in the semi-arid districts of Kongwa and Kiteto. Research covers identification of adapted pigeonpea and groundnut varieties for each agroecological zone, developing appropriate seed systems for delivery to farmers, training farmers in integrated soil fertility management and soil and water conservation practices to fight growing land degradation, farming systems analysis (in particular crop-tree-livestock productivity) and studying postharvest processing opportunities to increase crop attractiveness/demand.

In addition to nutritious grains, legumes and dryland cereals can generate other benefits. Some sorghum varieties are used as food-feed crop (stalks and foliage are good fodder for livestock) or for the brewing industry. With Africa Harvest as a partner, the multi-use sorghum project works with farmers to explore various opportunities in the sorghum value chain.

Adoption a new technology such as improved varieties is not a straightforward process and depends on various social interactions between farmers and other actors along the crop value chain. A better understanding of the role of social networks can help identify the main adoption constraints.

Improving nutrition: The McKnight-funded Groundnut Varieties Improvement for Yield and Adaptation, Human Health, and Nutrition project looks at boosting the production and consumption of nutritious groundnut through the dissemination of high-yielding adapted varieties and fighting aflatoxin contamination. Analysis of samples showed high levels of contamination (over 70%) from this deadly food toxin. Finger millet, a dryland cereal rich in essential micronutrients like zinc and calcium, is being grown in increasing quantities thanks to the release of improved varieties showing an average 40% yield increase compared to local ones.

Agricultural research is also gender-specific, as farming constraints differ for men and women. For instance, variety traits differ from men to women. For pigeonpea, most men preferred varieties with high grain yield and large seed size with marketability, while women considered traits suitable for home consumption and green grain in pigeonpea sales.  [Ref: Enhancing productivity of groundnut and pigeonpea cropping systems in Tanzania and Uganda, IFAD]

ICRISAT develops strategic partnerships to help deliver innovations to smallholder farmers, starting with the main research institutions in Tanzania like the Naliendele Agricultural Research Institute and Sokoine University of Agriculture.

Key documents on Tanzania



Woman farmer in her pigeonpea field - pulse production has risen significantly in recent years. Tropical Legumes 2 improves access to better grain legume seeds.
Sorghum varieties for the brewing industry creates new livelihoods for Tanzanian small-scale farmers.
Facilitating sorghum trade negotiation between farmers and WFP’s Purchase for Progress  – White grain macia variety developed by ICRISAT is well appreciated by the local market.