Tanzania: Hybrid maize increases harvest, but also cost

May 08, 2017
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February is the start of the rainy season in Tanga Region, on the coast of Tanzania. Farmers have already prepared their land and some have started planting maize. But the challenge for many maize farmers is the high price of improved hybrid seed. In Muheza district, many farmers are choosing local seeds because they are more affordable, although the yield is smaller.

Jumanne Juma is a farmer in Muheza district who depends on maize for his living. He is the secretary of Umoja ni Nguvu, a farmers group. He manages the group’s demonstration plot, which is planted with improved maize varieties that are resistant to drought, including Nata Hybrid 104 and Nata Hybrid 105.

Mr. Juma has been growing improved varieties for the past two seasons and has had greater success than his neighbours. He says, “In the last two seasons, I was not able to get enough harvest due to climate change and very low rainfall, but I did not lose all of my maize, compared to farmers who grew the local varieties.”

Despite his good results, Mr. Juma says the price of improved maize seeds is high, at 5,000 Tanzanian shillings ($2.21 US) per kilogram. To plant one acre, you need eight kilograms of seed, according to Mr. Juma. He explains, “We who are in a group, we can afford this price, but individual farmers cannot afford [it].”

Mduruma Zebeda is a researcher and the managing director of Aminata Company, which researches improved seeds in the Tanga Region. She admits that improved varieties of maize are not cheap, but says that producing the seed is expensive.

The hybrid maize is produced by cross-pollinating different varieties to get seeds that are tolerant to drought and can produce high yields. The seeds are not genetically modified; GM seeds are not allowed in Tanzania outside of research fields.

Asha Mbelwa is the extension officer for Muheza district. She says farmers often complain about the cost of improved seeds. They are also concerned with poor germination. She explains, “There are some farmers that have quit planting improved seeds because few seeds germinate when they plant them.”

Farmers can purchase 20 kilograms of local seeds for 21,000 Tanzanian shillings ($9.30 US). This works out to about 1,000 shillings per kilogram, which is much less than the 5,000 shillings per kilogram for improved seeds. Nevertheless, Mrs. Mbelwa encourages farmers to plant improved seeds because the seeds are tolerant to drought.

They also have higher yields. Some farmers have found that they can harvest 28 to 30 sacks from one acre of improved seeds, but just four or five sacks with local seeds.

Asha Malingumu is the chairperson of the Changamoto farmers group, and lives in Misalai, in Tanga Region. She planted improved seeds and got a good harvest, although she admits that the costs are high, particularly when farmers also need to purchase fertilizers and pesticides to protect their crops.

Farmers in her area were fortunate to get a good harvest last season. Misalai is in the highlands. The area is wet most of the year, which allows crop production even when the rainy season is poor.

She says, “Our farm is one acre in size, and we planted improved maize seed that we received from researchers. Harvests are very good.”

This work was created with the support of USAID’s New Alliance ICT Extension Challenge Fund, through the International Fund for Agricultural Development in Tanzania, https://www.ifad.org/