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Learning from Tanzania cassava

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Just like Malawi and other countries in Southern Africa, Tanzania has also faced the devastating effects of El Nino which has resulted in food insecurity.

People of Kisamwene Village, Buitama District located in Mara region in northern Tanzania have also been affected. Their hope was in cassava as an alternative food crop alongside bananas and sorghum. They make flour from it but also have various ways of preparing it. It is also a major source of income.

Rehema Sumune says cassava of this area was infected with a strange disease and it was not consumable.

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“This was very devastating. In recent years, we normally don’t harvest enough maize and we supplement our food [needs] with cassava and bananas,” she says.

Sumune tells that it was a relief when their area was chosen to be part of a Mikocheni Agriculture Research Institute case study whose aim was to see if an improved cassava (which is resistant to the virus disease) could be used instead.

They used an already existing Juhudi Farmers Group, which established a demo farm for cassava farming. The group started two years ago.

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There are 25 women in this group which was established to promote women in the agriculture sector. The members share the profits and contribute Tshs1,500 (MK500) to the group funds every month to enrich the funds to be used in other activities.

At the moment, the group has a total o Tshs150,000 (K47,000) available in their account, this money is usually used to extend source of planting materials.

“This improved variety will help us in our household food security and help restore our source of income,” says Sumune.

This cassava material is called ‘Nkombozi’ (meaning liberator).

Chief Research Officer for Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology (Costech) Dr Nicholas Nyange says the women can now harvest cassava because the variety is resistant to diseases.

“The variety has the potential to give more than 20 tonnes per hectare depending on soils. It is improved and palatable,” he says.

Nyange explains that improved varieties are not genetically modified and this cassava improvement is called tissue culture material which is tolerant to the cassava disease.

We engaged former minister Dr. Joseph Mungulu Director of Engineering based in Dar es Salaam who went on national television to talk about hunger and farmers demanded an improved variety, he explains.

Senior Lecturer at Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources’ (Luanar) Department of Horticulture, Dr. Wezi Mkwaila notes that this is a good model for rural farmers as they have a place to collect seedlings to plant in respective gardens.

“We have improved cassava varieties in Malawi but may be they are not well disseminated. We could still benefit from this research though. We should learn the model of multiplication and how it is disseminated here in Tanzania and apply this in Malawi,” she says.

Mkwaila quickly simplifies that these are just conventional varieties and there is nothing wrong with them saying.

“The advantage of this is that it is resistant to pests and diseases. Research has shown that such varieties are safe for human consumption. We should be free to utilise such varieties because they go through all necessary procedures,” she says.

In his presentation at the Africa leadership course on strategic planning and grassroots held in Mwanza, Tanzania recently, Associate Research Scientist for Agricultural Innovation Research Foundation (AIRF) Emmarold Mneney pointed out that by harnessing science and technology, African countries have a stronger chance of addressing the global challenges of food and nutrition insecurity, poverty and climate change.

“Biotechnology has great potential in promoting agricultural and socio-economic development. The application of plant biotechnology techniques, in conjunction with conventional plant breeding and good crop management, can play a major role in ensuring food security and adequate nutrition in Africa,” he highlighted.

Malawi National Commission for Science and Technology programme Manager for Biosafety Systems, Boniface Mkoko says Malawi has so far completed trials on Bt Cotton which have shown high productivity and could produce 50 percent more yields.

“The results were submitted to environmental affairs department’s biosafety registrar for further assessment, thereafter this will go to Ministry of Agriculture and the whole process may take two years,” he says, adding that Luanar is also conducting another confined trial on cow peas.

All these crops which are undergoing biotechnology trials are under attack of pests and diseases.

Malawi has the national and requirements which also meet international standards for conducting studies on genetically modified crops (biotech crops) in place. It has a national biotechnology and biosafety policy which was approved by cabinet in 2008 and a Biosafety Act.

Meanwhile Malawi has not yet approved the use of biotechnology crops in the country but with the legal framework in place, it may be in the same boat with neighbouring Tanzania.

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