Regina Mwashilemo, a crop and livestock farmer in Veyula village, Dodoma, Tanzania, supports five children and two grandchildren on just a few acres of land. “To be honest the land is owned by the man for the most part,” she says. “But since he is absent, I’m the one in charge and I’m the one taking care of it.” Her husband, a security guard in Dar-es-Salaam, helps support the family with his small salary.
Regina has invested in three cows in order to diversify her livelihood. “I keep them because of the milk they provide, which I can sell, and also the manure,” she says. “They provide a lot of manure. At least I get a few coins here and there from that.” Her livestock are also important for the nutritional standards of the family. “My family benefits from the livestock-keeping project because they get to drink milk – they drink milk every day, at least a cup each,” she says.
The land where Regina should be seeing a lush green crop of maize is barren and dusty. “The weather this year honestly is not like any other I have ever seen since I came to Dodoma; this is the most severe. And I don’t get it, up to now I cannot tell you for certainty whether the rain will come or not, because what I’m used to is it always rains on time. It’s not rained since November-December. Now we’re in January and still no rain completely. I know it’s a very severe drought, a very severe drought this year.”
“I’ve really tried to plant maize, but it’s been difficult because after planting the maize just dries up,” she says. “And when the maize dries up, I don’t get anything. It was then that I decided to shift from sowing maize, to sunflower, sorghum and other crops like cassava, which can at least resist the drought.
The situation in this region of Tanzania has become increasingly desperate. As Regina says: “With the way things are, we plead with the government to intervene, particularly these sides of Dodoma, because things are really terrible. So terrible, severe famine.” Her cows are also suffering now because there is little fodder for them to eat.
As maize is her most valuable crop, Regina is keen to try again if either the drought relents or she can get access to more drought-tolerant maize varieties, such as those being developed by the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project. “Honestly, if I can get seeds for some good drought-resistant maize, I will go back to growing maize,” she says. “Growing maize has been too hard for me after the drought here in Dodoma. I really need these WEMA seeds, and if they can give me just enough to plant, I will grow maize again so it can sustain me better.”