Exploration of fertile areas and conducting research on what types of crops can be produced in such areas for optimum production is the only way of achieving self-sufficiency in food and earning substantial foreign exchange.
Despite the seemingly concerted efforts, however, the country is still far from food self-sufficiency and foreign exchange earned from cash crops is still meagre simply because the country fails to fully exploit fertile areas.
In the 1970s, the then National Agricultural Food Corporation (NAFCO) established a wheat farm in Kagera Region, which was known as Kibanda Wheat company.
The Company was to develop fertile areas of Kibanda in Karagwe district for the cultivation of wheat. To the dismay of the region's residents, the project has died a natural death. The National Agricultural Food Corporation (NAFCO) was one of Tanzania 's leading public farming firms whose farms, by and large, had attained internationally accepted yields per hectare.
Kibanda is situated some 75 kilometres from Karagwe, the district headquarters and is divided into three zones which were surveyed by NAFCO and found to be suitable for wheat growing. The area, which borders the Kagera River on its northern part, is hilly and is also considered to be a dividing line between areas suitable for wheat and maize cultivation.
The first zone which is within the Kagera Basin has a surveyed area covering over 4,000 hectares which was said to be suitable for mechanized maize growing. Second is the Kibanda Valley, a circular depression with an area of about 1,500 hectares.
The altitude here ranges between 1,220 to 1,360 metres above sea level and was also said to be ideal for wheat and maize production. Then there is the Kibanda Highlands, which is characterized by hilly dissected plateaus with an altitude of between 1,360 to 1,525 metres above sea level. This was considered the best wheat growing zone with 2,000 hectares available for development.
In these zones, local people were cultivate bananas (the region's staple food), beans, peas, groundnuts, finger millet, sorghum, maize and coffee. After lengthy research by NAFCO it was decided that about 2,420 hectares be committed to wheat cultivation.
This would have been undertaken in phases with the aim of expanding the area annually. In 1975, two hundred hectares were cultivated and increased to 400 hectares in the following year. It was envisaged that the whole project would be completed by 1980, but due to financial constraints, it was extended to 1982, when the whole area of about 2,400 hectares would have been fully developed.
The project which was initially expected to produce between 1.5 to 1.8 tonnes of wheat per hectare was to be established on loan basis, and about 13m/- was supposed to be invested in wheat growing which would be on a rotational and inter-cropping basis with legumes, mostly beans.
But the crop rotation process was discouraged by agricultural officials so that more efforts could be concentrated on tending the wheat to ensure good yields. Under the initial plan, strip cropping (the alternating of strips of different crops including fallow), was also to be undertaken.
This type of cropping would have facilitated the seasonal rotation programme since the area experienced a bi-modal type of rainfall. As wheat was supposed to be planted twice a year, an important factor was the selection of varieties resistant to mist and quick maturing.
Seeds were obtained from Tanganyika Farmers Association in Arusha and the Tanzania Seed Company in Njombe. These were the 3837W and 3742W types which ripen quickly. Later on, it was anticipated that the seeds would be obtained from the farm itself.
Wheat at Kibanda was supposed to be planted in February and May and between September and October. These periods were referred to as long rain crop and short rain crop seasons, respectively.
Kibanda Wheat Company was expected to produce 540 tonnes worth 648,000/- in 1976, while 1977 harvest was expected to top 1,200 tonnes worth about 1.4m/- and by 1982 the wheat production at Kibanda was expected to rise to 4,320 tonnes then worth 5,184,000/-.
With better strains, experts believe that the company would be producing 10,000 tonnes of wheat annually. But production somehow always fell short of target. Wheat is a typical cash crop as it is rarely consumed under subsistence level compared to other cereals.
Moreover, the production of wheat is not extensive compared to other cereals because it requires special ecological and climatic conditions. When it started, the project had employed over 100 people from neighbouring villages and had at its disposal three tractors, one combined harvester, and other farm implements all of which have now been left to rot.
But because of what seems to be over-enthusiasm, Kibanda did not live up to expectations of the then Commissioner for Agriculture, the late Rugimbana, who conceived the idea of wheat farming in the area in 1970. When NAFCO decided it could not run the company due to high costs of fuel and other overhead expenses, it handed over the running of the project to the Regional Development Directorate.
The Directorate on the other hand, thought it wise that such a venture should have been entrusted a development Corporation. Of all the Corporations which existed by then in the region, Balimi Development Corporation seemed to be the one that could successfully develop the wheat project at Kibanda.
Balimi, which lacked expertise in large-scale wheat farming, staggered for a few years to maintaining the company but ultimately failed. The much fancied food project in Kagera Region thus folded. For the people living around Kibanda and Kagera as a whole, this amounted to a shattered dream of an improved standard of living.