26 November 2012

Tanzania: Tomato Seed Worth Its Weight in Gold

Photo: The Daily News
Women vendors selling their agricultural produce at a Tanzanian market (file photo).

Forget about the the gold in the mines, the money is in the gardens with tomato seed breeding.

If local miners in the country had knowledge about the price of a kilo of tomato seeds in the European market, they would have shifted their attention from the mines to the field of vegetable seed breeding.

About thirty kilometers south of Arusha town lies' Rijk Zwaan Afrisem, a company that deals with conventional vegetable seed breeding like tomatoes, cucumber, sweat potatoes, egg plant, Chinese pepper and many other vegetable varieties mainly for export to European and other international markets.

Mr. Herald Peeters, the Managing Director for Rijk Zwaan Afrisem says his company has spent around $1,5 million (1.2 million Euros) investment in seed breeding.

He however points out that all these investments that are involved in the process of conventional seed breeding that takes up to more than 10 years usually pays off because a kilo of tomato seeds fetches about $82,727 (Euro, 65,000) in Europe where a tomato seed will give you $0.32 (Euro 0.25 cents).

Peteers says his company has already won the international seed certification and is ranked amongst the 10 best international seed breeders"

The greatest challenge Peteers say is on low production of seeds and labor efficient caused by low education in the field of breeding considering that most of graduates from Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA) are employed on temporally basis.

According to Abel Kuley, a professional horticulturalist with the firm, there has been lack of knowledge to farmers on drip irrigation because most of them are growing vegetables traditionally.

"We teach farmers to cultivate vegetables in a modern way no matter their varieties, Mr. Kuley says, and adding that improved hybrid varieties have however proved to have higher yields than local varieties.

For the hybrid variety to give you that yield you need to give it sufficient water at the right time while also ensuring that fertilizer application and weeds is done at the right time insisting that after the training the choice is left to a farmer on whether or not he should adopt the new hybrid varieties.

He further points out that his firm through partnership with Fintrack and the Dutch government have been able to train farmers on capacity building and 30 of them have already adopted the green house system.

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