Tanzania: New cassava varieties helps farmers cope with drought

February 13, 2017
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In Kibaha, on Tanzania’s coast, the environment is green and the cassava is growing—despite the lack of rain. In Janga village, the Umoja na mshikamano farmer group has planted their one-and-a-half acre demonstration plot with improved cassava varieties. These varieties are designed to give farmers a better chance at a good harvest, even with little rain.

Halima Kitunda is the chairperson of the group. She says they have planted Mkuranga1, Chereko chereko, Kipusa, and Kizimbani varieties of cassava. She says that, according to researchers, these varieties are resistant to diseases and mature quickly.

Rajab Salum is the chairperson of the Mshikamano farming group, which has a one-acre demonstration plot in Janga. He explains that cassava is prone to attack by diseases. Most commonly, farmers must deal with whiteflies, which can carry cassava mosaic disease and cassava brown streak disease. But thanks to training from experts, the farmers can identify the diseases early.

Mr. Salum explains, “We usually look at the cassava stem [to see] if whiteflies form a cluster at the stem, or brown stripes cause leaves to change from green to brown.”

If they spot an infected plant, the farmers uproot and burn it to stop the disease from spreading.

To address climate change and drought, the government has advised farmers to plant crops that are tolerant to drought—like cassava. Some improved cassava varieties need little rain during the growing period. The Mshikamano and Umoja groups are growing varieties on their demonstration plots that can be harvested seven to 12 months after planting.

Mrs. Kitunda says that farmers can expect improved varieties recommended by researchers to mature quickly and give a good yield.

The farmers are using the demonstration plots to produce improved cuttings so that, in the coming season, they have enough to distribute to other farmers. Farmers can also get improved cassava varieties from research institutions, which distribute them for free.

Neema Sonje is an extension officer in the Janga ward of Kibaha District. She says that, despite growing improved varieties of cassava, production has been lower this year for many farmers because of the drought. She explains, “It was not because of diseases. The problem was drought. Until today, we have not planted cuttings [for] harvest. We are still working on producing more cuttings [in the demonstration plot].”

It has been difficult to find large areas to grow improved cassava cuttings and to convince farmers to switch to the new varieties.

Mrs. Sonje says that there is a need to support groups like Umoja na Ushindi to produce more cuttings. She says, “By doing this, we would be able to produce lots of food in the future and solve the problem of hunger.”