MAIZE farmers have appealed to the government to empower them with strongdrought and pest resistant seeds to cultivate their own crops, instead of sourcing them from private producers, who end up charging them expensively.
"It is high time the government facilitated farmers and other state institutions such as the National Service and Prisons Department to produce the seeds at affordable cost," said Kidiki Swai, a farmer at Kabuku village in Handeni District, Tanga Region.
He made the call while meeting a team of researchers from the Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH) and the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, who visited demonstration farms in their midst to assess performance of the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) varieties. However, Mr Swai was impressed that the new breeds have enabled them to increase yields to four tonnes per acre, instead of a half a tonne per the same acre they used to gather initially.
"The demand for the new breeds is high, but the private seed producers are charging us highly, if farmers in Handeni were empowered to produce the seeds, then the prices will be lowered," he pointed out.
Maize is the staple food in Tanzania and many other African countries, but it has been severely infected by frequent drought which results into its low yields and thus leading to hunger and poverty. The WEMA projects are currently undertaken in five African countries of Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Mozambique and South Africa. The initiative aims at enhancing food security in the Sub-Saharan Africa by developing and deploying drought and pest resistant maize breeds. The new innovations are also expected to improve the livelihood of the rural communities, mainly those engaging in small scale farming.
On his side, the Director of Research and Development in the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, Dr Jackson Nkuba, explained during a field tour in Babati District, Manyara Region that researchers are still working on new maize varieties.
Three conventional drought tolerant maize species named during the tour included WEMA 2109, WEMA 2112 and WEMA 2113, which were released to the farmers way back in 2013. In Tanzania, maize is cultivated on about two to three million hectares in every planting season. A new variety known as "drought tego hybrid" is currently undergoing trials in low and medium attitude areas in Babati and Kabuku.
One of researchers for the project, Mr Ismail Ngolinda, said they are still working on other 500 new varieties, noting however that during the period, some new diseases and pests like army-worms have emerged during the trials