JULIUS Mugasha (52) a resident of Butulage village of Bukoba Rural's Izimbya Ward has an interesting story to tell.
Like many other small holder farmers in Kagera Region, he had lost hope after his four-acre banana plantation was devastated by the Banana Bacterial Wilt Disease (BBWD). For many decades Kagera Region was a shining example in the production of bananas as the staple food crop.
However, after the outbreak of BBWD, black sigatoka (BS) and banana weevils, almost 80 per cent of the crop was destroyed leading to a significant fall in production.
In 2017, the Banana Agronomy Project through the Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute (TARI) implemented a project aimed at reviving the banana crop where Mugasha was among the farmers who got training on better banana management.
After the training he has managed to improve banana production from five bunches per week to 15-30 bunches. The income he earned has also enabled him to pay school fees for his three children attending secondary schools and he even afforded to roof their house with iron sheets.
Before the training, a bunch of banana at his plantation weighed about 20 kilogrammes compared to now when a bunch weighs between 60-80 kgs.
Rehema Hussein (70) a widow resident of Ruhunga Ward explained that banana weevils had reduced the yield at her 30-year old banana plantation to 5-10 kilogrammes per bunch but after attending the workshop she now boasts of between 80-100 kilogrammes per bunch.
This has enabled her to extend a cabbage farm which has supplemented the food security. She appealed to other women to emulate the example. Contrary to many people who think that agriculture is a tough job only for males, she says it is a manageable and a very lucrative venture.
Youths should also avoid wasting time going to towns in search of employment and turn to agriculture which is sustainable, she remarks. Various interventions were taken by the government and have shown positive results.
Ms Julitha Nkuba (40), a Ward Agricultural Advisor (WAA) for Izimbya, explained that about 1,664 Village Based Farmers (VBF) or Lead farmers attended on farm extension services through the Banana Agronomy project. Various topics were covered including weevil trapping, dethrashing, soil and water conservation structure, general farm cleanliness, mulching and manuring.
Through Farmers' Field Schools (FFS) many farmers managed to revive their banana plantations increasing production to 15-20 tonnes per hectare from 4-5 tonnes per hectare. The higher yields have translated into improved livelihoods. Farmers who are part of the project are showing sustainable difference.
The outcomes include bigger bunches, the ability to buy basic needs and are now capable to pay school fees for their children.
A Senior Banana Researcher based at TARI Maruku, in Bukoba Rural District, Dr Shimwela Mpoki, disclosed that about 5,000 farmers had been reached through the Banana Agronomy project which ends this year in six wards namely Mugajwale, Izimbya, Kikomero, Rubale, Ruhunga and Kaibanja.
He said a new project was in pipeline that will see ten high breed banana varieties being released to the farmers. The varieties are resistant to black sigatoka and banana weevils and have been selected by the farmers themselves.
The Banana agronomy project has greatly built the capacity of the farmers through on Farm Field Exchanges (FFE) with their counterparts in Kilimanjaro Region. The Regional Agricultural Advisor (RAA) at the regional secretariat, Louis Baraka, said plans were underway to boost the production of bananas from 12 tonnes per hectare to 30-40 tonnes per hectare.
He said he was confident that with proper management the target could be met. Currently, Kagera Region produces an average of 1.8 million to 2.0 million tonnes of bananas annually.
The Regional Administrative Secretary (RAS), Professor Faustin Kamuzora, appealed to residents in the region to double production of both cash and food crops to supply the regional markets in four East African Community (EAC) nations - Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and Kenya as well as the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo DRC) and South Sudan.
Bananas generate income (money) and employment opportunities. It is expected when the MV Victoria steamer starts operation it will hasten people's development by easing transport between Lake Zone regions of Mwanza, Kagera, Mara, Geita, Simiyu and Shinyanga.