Zanzibar — ZANZIBAR farmers have expressed their confidence in a brighter future after undergoing intense training and getting access to hybrid cassava and sweet potato seeds that have played a great role in increasing their yields from just nine sacks to 55 sacks of their 13-acre farm.
The Bubuni Mangapani Co-operative Group chairman, Mr Mohamed Silima, said that the group was introduced to new method of farming by using hybrid seeds by the Zanzibar Agriculture Research Institute, ZARI.
He explained that their crops had been devastated by cassava mosaic and brown streak for a long time; however the hybrids developed by researchers have brought a breakthrough and they are now producing more than they ever thought possible.
"The problem of cassava mosaic and brown streak virus had almost destroyed the cassava crop which is staple food for the majority of people in Zanzibar for many years now," he said.
He stressed that they hoped that finally the improved seeds will bring about lasting solution to the challenges they had been facing for so many years.
"Our lives have improved tremendously since we started using the seeds and our livelihood has also improved and we are sure of earning between Sh500,000 and Sh800,000 annually just from the cooperative farm," he said.
The cooperative has also put up a nursery of hybrid seeds that they sell to farmers in the area thereby boosting their income and helping other farmers in the area to produce quality and quantity products.
Mr Silima explained that they had been experiencing a lot of challenges when they were using traditional seeds which were vulnerable to climate variations, pests and diseases and would therefore dry up before they could produce quality crops thereby harvesting poor and very little crops.
However, he pointed out that on the farm they have grown both traditional and hybrid seeds and so far the traditional crops have been attacked by pests and diseases therefore putting at risk the other crops.
According to him, this was a way of evaluating both the crops and so far traditional crops have shown they are vulnerable to climate change, diseases and pests.
However, ZARI research officer, Shaali Mohamed Shali, said that while farmers in Zanzibar have moved a step up in practising improved agriculture by use of modern farming still a lot of education is needed for sustainable farming.
He said that a lot of training has been conducted to improve agriculture in Zanzibar but farmers have still not made a decision on whether to use traditional or improved seeds.
"While the farmers are producing quality and quantity crops since they started using hybrid crops, we are perplexed when we visit their farms to find that they have planted both traditional and hybrid seeds on the same farm," he said.
He explained that so far a lot of effort is being used to train the people on the importance of improved agriculture for food security and livelihoods but noted that it will take time for the people to embrace the technology 100per cent.
"While we train the people to use improved seed in farming, most of them embrace the technology but at the same time plant traditional seeds and hybrid seeds on the same farm thereby risking the crops to disease and pesticides'," he said.
According to him, traditional crops are susceptible to diseases and pests and diseases among others and if planted together with improved seeds are likely to affect the crops growing from improved seeds.
ZARI director, Mr Haji Salum said that ZARI offers free planting materials to farmers and train them on quality management and entrepreneur skills. He said that 40 per cent of roots and tuber crops account for post-harvest losses from the farm to consumption either during packing or transportation.
"We have established a lab to see how we can reduce post-harvest losses which is currently in its initial stages," he said.
According to him, the institute faces challenges in form of lack of enough funds to bring in more technologies and innovations that will help the farmers.
Tanzania should focus on reducing poverty and improving nutrition through key investments to improve availability and access to staple foods by enhancing the competitiveness of smallholders in crops like roots and tubers, rice, maize and horticulture value chains targeting areas with high agriculture potential bordering chronically food insecure districts.
To achieve these local farmers should transform their agricultural sector to achieve food security and increase the incomes of smallholder farmers and agro-processors through improving irrigation, building rural infrastructures and connecting farmers to improved technology like hybrid seeds.
Currently agriculture is growing at 4.2 per cent annually while the growth of the economy is between 6-7 per cent annually. For the overall economy to grow faster the agricultural sector has to grow by at least 6 per cent annually, experts argue.