20 July 2014

Tanzania: WEMA Seeds - a Science Breakthrough

Word is out that if you want to witness hope and optimists farmers, get kitted for destinations like Vitonga, one of the Mvomero villages, where Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) engage farmers in the field and demo trials.

An optimist Alfreda Jones, 35, a resident of Vitonga village nestled on green folding mountains of Uluguru, personifies hope. On July 17 this year, two weeks before the start of the famous annual agricultural exhibition known as Nane Nane, Alfreda peered into the distant horizon and quipped in her local Kiluguru vernacular: "When I saw your car I contemplated you have the keys to change my life."

The maize yield in her demo plot where she planted seeds supplied to her by WEMA visually outweigh the yield in adjacent farms. Even Alfreda's seven-year-old son Fred Jones knows the difference. Welcome to Mvomero district of Morogoro, where climate change - started dashing the hopes of resource-poor farmers.

Vitonga village in Mlali ward, one of the novel villages that were selected to demonstrate the performance of WEMA maize varieties, the new healthy hybrids, strong and potential in terms of high yields, drought and common maize diseases.

Zakaria Alfred, a village executive officer said that when he planted one of the new hybrids on March 15, this year, the rain did not take long before it disappeared.

"We received seeds late, the planting season was almost over, the maize received low rains. Surprisingly, the maize survived the dry spell, yet the yield is marvellous. If all villagers will go for these seeds, hunger is going to be history," he said.

Gaitan Kulinyagwa, 61 years old, who is among the farmers who planted the new hybrids in their demonstration plots during the rainy season in March said unlike other local and on-market maize varieties, the new hybrid varieties have not shown any disease symptoms, let alone the drought.

He said in other maize varieties, the farmers usually experience some insects which feed on maize and reduce the ability of the growing maize to reach maturity, while yields are reduced as well.

"The new varieties will help poor farmers get better yields," they said. Farmers like Alfreda see something beyond the WEMA maize yield. For her, it reminded her of how her daughter was expelled from school.

"I wish I had such yield in the last three years, I would have afforded to pay for my daughter. I failed to pay for her school fees; I had nothing. She was expelled from school while she was in form two" she explained. Imagine if I could harvest 30 bags of maize in one acre; usually, I have three acres.

Do you think I would continue to live in such house and in poor condition? She asks while pointing a finger at her small grassthatched house where she lives with her three children. WEMA seeds are tools for livelihood transformation, a true tool that farmers need not to be convinced. Maize is our main staple crop.

Average yields in typical farmers' plots have remained insignificant compared to the estimated potential yields of 4-5 metric tonnes per hectare. According to WEMA country coordinator, Dr. Alois Kullaya, while some farmers are keen on increasing maize productivity, their efforts are hampered by a wide range of constraints.

He said apart from drought, other problems are those related to poor crop management practices which involve the use of unimproved seeds. It is estimated that less than 10 per cent of farmers use improved seeds.

There is also the problem of low application of agroinputs such as fertilizers and pesticides, lack of irrigation and poor weed control, which bring about declining soil fertility and drought among many other problems, he said.

Against these pitching challenges, the WEMA project in Tanzania, jointly implemented by the Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH) and the Ministry for Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives through department of Research Development (DRD) has released and demonstrated three new drought tolerant maize hybrids.

The hybrids, codenamed the WE2109, WE 2112, and WE2113, adapted to lowland and mid-altitude ecologies were demonstrated to local seed companies for commercial production.

According to Dr. Barnabas Kiula, the new hybrids are adapted to lowland and mid-altitude ecologies and have already undergone several tests in several regions where they have turned out successful. He said in terms of key strengths of the new varieties is the good performance under drought conditions.

For his part, WEMA Project Manager Dr Sylvester Oikeh said: "For a farmer to accept any seed variety, it has to meet his/ her expectations beyond reasonable doubt.

Today's farmers testimonies confirm the seeds will do well in the market." He challenged seed companies to "wake up" and take an active role in the agricultural sector through breeding, production and promotion of WEMA drought tolerant maize hybrids.

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