Tanzania: New Maize Variety for Drought Prone Regions

WHILE Dodoma is endowed with good soil for agricultural activities, production is far below potential and produce often fails to meet quality standards. Maize, sunflower, wheat, sorghum, sweet potatoes, cassava, banana among others are some of the food and cash crops produced, though their marketability has proved to be an uphill task.

Against this backdrop, the Open Forum for Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) under the Tanzania Commission of Science and Technology (COSTECH) conducted a series of training to agro extension officers and farmers on how to increase production, improve quality and marketability as well as reduce hunger to smallholders farmers in the region.

One of the new technologies is the distribution of the drought tolerant maize varieties (WEMA 2109) to farmers in the region by establishing demonstration plots and fertilizers. The hybrid maize seed WEMA 2109 has been approved by the government for deployment. The variety has been developed in understanding that drought has become a serious threat to maize production in Tanzania and across Africa due to changing weather patterns induced by climate change. There are other new improved maize varieties including WE2112 and WE2113.

Salanka, Bukulu, Kidoka, Igunga and Mondo villages in Kondoa, Chamwino and Chemba districts, Dodoma Region are among the villages which benefited from the new technology. Dr Nicholas Nyange, an Advisor of OFAB Tanzania said the improved varieties will produce reliable harvests under moderate drought conditions and protect maize from other infections the varieties will also offer benefit to small holder farmers most of whom is women, so they can feed their families and increase their incomes.

"OFAB in collaboration with COSTECH, after realising that farmers are still grappling with poor farming methods decided to bring them these improved varieties and establish demo plots so they can adapt to new ways of farming," Dr Nyange explained. The demo plots are used to teach agricultural techniques and technologies, and would help farmers to learn new methods without having to do it on their farms. To address climate change and drought, the government has advised farmers to plant improved maize varieties that are tolerant to drought. Some improved varieties need little rain during the growing period.

Mr Omary Juma of Salanka village in Kondoa district says that farmers can expect improved varieties recommended by researchers to mature quickly and give a good yield. Hawa Ally, a farmer from Kabuku village, Kondoa District said that the new technology would help increase yield as drought affect their crops leading to shortage of food. "I'm happy to be among people whose farms are used to establish demonstration plots of WEMA 2109 hybrid maize seed. We thank OFAB under Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture to bring us these varieties," Ms Ally noted.

An agricultural officer from Dodoma regional office, Ms Hadija Kayera said that Dodoma is a drought prone area that needs efforts in ensuring farmers increase food production. "Drought is a major problem that afflicts many farmers in this region. We hope this is the best way of improving food production for most smallholder farmers," she added.

Ms Kayera said droughts and poor methods of farming are the main challenges leading to low food production and income in the region. Saidi Aggrey a resident of Salanka village in Kondoa District said in one acre of maize farm, they harvest only 4 bags. "Drought leads to crop failure, hunger and poverty. Climate change will only worsen the problem.

The immediate consequence of drought is a fall in crop production due to inadequateand poorly distributed rainfall," Mr Aggrey told scientists who visited his plots. In times of drought, not only is there a direct shortfall of food production but also relative price movements of grain versus other commodities may drastically reduce the purchasing power of groups. Although most farmers in Dodoma Region are ready to make efforts to boost production, the government through COSTECH creates environment enabling farmers access new and modern technology in agricultural activities.

To large extent, agriculture is in the hands of small-scale farmers who use rudimentary tools of production and methods passed down across generation in low crop yields, despite their high commercial and export potential. Deogratius Mgulisiis an extension officer of Mondo ward in Chemba District. Says production has been lower this year for many farmers because of the drought. He explains, "It was not because of diseases. The problem was drought.

Many farmers also are not aware on the best ways of farming. We hope this will be the solution of hunger and shortage of food in Mondo village," Mr Mgulisi said that there is a need to support groups like Nguvu kazi Mondo group to produce more yields. He said, "By doing this, we would be able to produce lots of food in the future and solve the problem of hunger.

Chairperson of Nguvu Kazi Mondo group, Hawa Sachu from Mondo village in Chemba District thanks the government. COSTECH stands as the key implementer of Water Efficient for Maize (WEMA) Tanzania because of its mandate to coordinate, monitor and evaluate scientific research and technology development and technology transfer activities across the country, says COSTECH Director General Dr Dugushilu Mafunda. It also facilitates national, regional and international cooperation in scientific research and technology development and transfer.

Chemba District Commissioner (DC) Simon Odunga has called on agro extension officers in the district to ensure farmers benefited from the new technology instead of using poor methods of farming. "This is a new milestone in improving agricultural activities in Chemba District. We are waiting for the outcome of this demonstration plots in order to be distributed to farmers in the district," DC said.

An agricultural officer from Ilonga Agricultural Centre in Morogoro Region, Ismail Ngolinda, has advised farmers to use modern technology to increase food production. "WEMA 2109 hybrid maize seed would increase yield. These varieties are designed to give farmers a better chance at a good harvest, even with little rain.

In one hectare, you may get over fifteen bags of maize. We advise you (farmers) to use this technology in order to increase production," said Mr Ngolinda.

Identifying ways to mitigate drought risk, stabilize yields, He encourage smallscale farmers to adopt best management practices as a fundamental to realizing food security and improved livelihoods for the continent.

Africa is a drought-prone continent, making farming risky for millions of smallholder farmers who rely on rainfall to water their crops. Maize is the most widely grown staple crop in Africa- more than 300 million people depend on it as their main food source-and it is severely affected by frequent drought

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