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Tanzania: High cost and low supply frustrate maize farmers looking for hybrid seeds

Now that the first rains are falling in Tanzania’s Tanga region, maize farmers are more optimistic about this year’s second harvest. They had a better harvest in July and August than last year, when the rains were late and light.

Mwanaidi Bakari is one of many women farmers in Muheza district. In this area, women are the main maize growers, while men prefer to grow cash crops such as fruit, sugar cane, and tea.

Many maize farmers in Tanga are eager to try new drought-tolerant and disease-resistant maize varieties. But some cannot afford the seeds, and others discover that the seeds are unavailable at planting time.

In 2016, Mrs. Bakari had poor harvests, and considered adding cassava to her plot. Then, even if her maize failed, she could harvest cassava. Weather was a major problem. The rains didn’t come when expected, and they were sparse when they arrived.

But Mrs. Bakari decided to focus on maize, thinking that new varieties such as Nata Hybrid 104 and Nata Hybrid 105 would help. But she couldn’t afford the hybrid seeds.

The two varieties cost 5,000 Tanzanian shillings (US$2.20) per kilogram. Farmers need at least five kilograms of seed to plant one acre. So, compared to using stored seeds, the new varieties require a major investment.

Mrs. Bakari says, “The seeds are very expensive. This is why we cannot buy them and we plant local seeds.”

Fortunately for Mrs. Bakari and other farmers in Tanga, this year’s first maize crop—both the traditional and new varieties—did well.

Mwajuma Mhina grows maize in Kilindi district, also in Tanga region. She says: “Honestly, last year the weather was very bad. I planted one acre and only harvested two [100-kg] sacks of maize. But this year the weather has been better. I managed to plant two acres and harvested six-and-a-half sacks of maize.”

Changing weather conditions are a challenge for every farmer. But they are particularly challenging for maize farmers since maize needs plenty of water. And it’s not only the weather that poses a threat to a good harvest. Plant diseases and pests are always a concern.

Mrs. Mhina says she learned how to control many pests with pesticides, listening to farmers who shared their experiences over the radio. A farmer program on Voice of Africa Radio has covered the maize planting and growing season since September 2016.

Asha Mbelwa is an agricultural technician in Tanga. She says the major problem farmers face in her area is accessing farm inputs, including new varieties of seeds. Either the price is too high, or farmers can’t find enough seed.

Jeni Elia Lumambo also grows maize in Kilindi district. After hearing on the radio that the new varieties were more resistant to disease than traditional varieties, she wanted to plant hybrid maize. But she couldn’t find enough of the new seeds. So she decided to grow a mix of purchased hybrid seeds and traditional seeds saved from previous harvests.

Mrs. Lumambo says her crop did well and she harvested seven sacks of maize. But, she says, she will try to find enough hybrid maize seeds for next season.

This story 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/ [1]

Story with files from Emerilinda Temba

Photo: Mwanaidi Bakari readies her field in Muheza District, Tanga Region