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New cassava varieties offer hope to farmers

New cassava varieties offer hope to farmers

IN an effort to ensure availability of improved cassava varieties to boost yields, fight poverty and starvation, the Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute, Mikocheni Centre (TARI Mikocheni) continues to educate farmers on the importance of using modern technologies and disease and pest resistant varieties.

The Principal Agricultural Research Officer and Entomologist with TARI, Zuberi Seguni, while addressing farmers of Zinga Village in Zinga Ward, Bagamoyo District at a harvesting ceremony recently, emphasized the importance of using newly released improved cassava varieties that are highly tolerant and resistant to the economically important cassava diseases: Cassava Mosaic Disease and Cassava Brown Streak Disease and the whitefly vector insect, which have been ravaging the crop for many years.

Officiating at the harvesting ceremony of the Zinga village farmers’ trial plot, the TARI scientist informed farmers that cassava mosaic disease (CMD) is present in all main cassava growing districts in Tanzania. The disease can cause between 20 and 95 per cent root yield loss. Higher yield losses occur when the planted cassava variety is highly susceptible and is infected during early stages of growth.

He further added that cassava brown streak disease (CBSD) constrains cassava production through production of diminutive tubers, rotting of tubers and general debilitation of infected plants. He added that cassava brown streak disease can lead to root yield losses of up to 60 per cent and higher and is therefore the most destructive cassava disease.

The farmers group at the Zinga Ward named “Hapa Kazi Tu” was informed during the recent harvesting occasion that three improved cassava varieties Mkumba, TARICASS 4 and Mkuranga 1 that the farmers had planted in the demonstration and trial plots one year ago, were aimed at educating them on new technologies on crop resistance and sustainable use of safe insecticides aimed at alleviating whitefly-vectored cassava diseases and the whitefly vector insect.

“Our aim is to help the group farmers learn and produce improved cassava varieties and share the know-how with other farmers within their area. We expect to establish other demo plots to continue educating farmers on these improved cassava varieties, to increase production and transform our farmers through practicing modern farming methods.

“The newly improved cassava varieties are resistant or tolerant to infection by CMD and CBSD pathogens that are transmitted between plants by the whitefly. Additionally, the varieties have considerable resistance to the whitefly compared to local varieties. The established demonstration and trial plots were aimed at making comparisons between traditional or local varieties and the improved ones, so as to expose them to farmers in order to help them learn practically and make choices,” the TARI Mikocheni scientist explained.

He said that since careful use of environmentally friendly insecticides is among the technologies for managing cassava whitefly, the demo plots helped farmers to learn and apply the technology with an objective to adopt it. And, it was very important that farmers know how to use the insecticides properly, so that they can be safely and effectively applied to control the pest at the same time avoid harm to farmers using them and the environment, he said.

Cassava is extensively cultivated in tropical and subtropical regions for its edible starchy tuberous root, a major source of carbohydrates. In Tanzania, cassava is cultivated and produced in all regions. Major producing regions are Mwanza, Mtwara, Lindi, Shinyanga, Tanga, Ruvuma, Pwani, Kigoma, Mara and Zanzibar.

The Agricultural Extension Officers for Zinga Village, Mr Mlungwana and Ms Isabella Sally, said that cassava is the main crop cultivated in Zinga Ward for food and income generation. Many smallholder farmers in the coastal region cultivate the root crops for food, and especially during the holy month of Ramadhan, when it is the main iftar food item.

“We thank Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute (TARI Mikocheni Centre) under Africa Cassava Whitefly Project for their efforts in ensuring they bring improved cassava varieties to smallholder farmers in the village,” said Ms Sally. “We assure you (researchers) that the varieties (diseasefree), will be shared among the group farmers and will eventually be distributed to many farmers in the village and ward in general and will be utilized to increase production of cassava in the ward for food and income generation.”

The extension officers explained that, for many years, cassava farmers in Bagamoyo District have suffered losses due to cassava diseases and pests such as cassava brown streak and cassava mosaic disease, leading to low production and harvests.

However, most farmers were unaware of the causes behind these losses. An Agriculture Officer from ACWP, Ms Leonia Mlaki, called upon farmers to adhere to expert advice given by researchers in adopting new sustainable technologies in order to increase their cassava production and income.

Elizabeth Kalova, a member of the Hapa Kazi Tu farmers’ group said that many farmers in the ward are cultivating cassava using poor farming methods leading to losses. “The efforts that the farmers are putting on their crop do not go hand in hand with the harvests. And, the situation is not encouraging at all. Therefore, we expect to increase production through these demo plots,” said Ms Kalova.

“We learnt how to plant using recommended spacing and to follow all instructions issued by agriculture experts.” The Chairman of the farmers group, Mr Saidi Ally, thanked researchers for their efforts in ensuring cassava farmers have access to improved varieties. “We assure you that we will continue to protect and distribute this technology to our fellow farmers in the district. We know how to use modern farming methods from planting up to harvesting. We expect to establish another plot in order to learn more and ensure every group member benefits from the technology,” he explained.

In Tanzania, the ACWP2 activities are being implemented in six regions - Tanga, Coast, Mtwara, Ruvuma, Mwanza and Mara. Districts involved in implementation are Muheza, Mkinga, Mkuranga, Bagamoyo, Chalinze, Mtwara Rural, Nyasa, Bunda and Sengerema.

The Project Investigator (PI) from Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute, Kibaha Centre (TARI Kibaha), Dr Esther Masumba, said that the main aim of the project is to ensure farmers access to improved varieties of cassava to increase their production and income.

She said the ACWP2 that started after the completion of the first-phase of the same project strives to determine dynamics of cassava whiteflies in the country and evaluate 5CP improved cassava varieties for whitefly resistance. The Coordinator of Technology Transfer and Partnership from TARI Mikocheni, Ms Furahini Hizza, pointed out that they will continue to encourage farmers to use modern technologies introduced and released by researchers.

Ms Hizza advised farmers in the village to adhere to expert advice given by researchers to maintain best farming practices in order to increase food production and income. Cassava is among root crops that have many benefits, as it can be roasted, boiled, fried, baked, pounded and milled.

With the adoption and utilisation of the newly improved cassava varieties and the whitefly control technologies, farmers in all cassava growing areas have every reason to smile, as the new technology and varieties will go a long way in boosting their harvests. That is expected to tackle poverty and food scarcity in the long run, while on the other hand, improving the economic status of the farmers.

According to TARI Director General, Dr Geofrey Mkamilo, Tanzania should use various technologies that provide a positive response to the challenges facing communities. He explained that over the years, TARI has developed a number of improved varieties and educated farmers on the right ways of using pesticides in a bid to help farmers stick on modern farming to increase their incomes while overcoming climate change challenges.

Tanzania has over 44 million hectares of arable land with only 33 per cent under cultivation and about 65 per cent of Tanzania population depends on agriculture for food, income, health, employment and raw materials for agro-processing industries. The DG noted that TARI has been established under the Act No. 10 of 2016 as a semiautonomous body of the government under the Ministry of Agriculture.

The TARI Mikocheni Manager, Dr Zuberi Bira, said that Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute -Mikocheni Centre (TARIMikocheni) is one of the 17 research centres under TARI, adding that the centre has two mandates, namely to conduct and promote research for the development of the coconut sub-sector and promote research and utilization of agricultural biotechnology for socio-economic development in the country.

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