Often unbeknownst to many ordinary people, agricultural experts in Tanzania, other parts of Africa and farther afield have been cracking their heads over the decades in search of technologies for enhancing the production of a wide range of food and cash crops.
Some of the drives have focused on particular geographical areas such as arid and semi-arid or flood-prone lands, while others are species-specific – that is, targeting particular crops, say, cereals, pulses as well as roots and tubers, and this for specific reasons.
Fortunately, a number of international agencies have often been around, ready to extend much-needed technical and other support or assistance. They include the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Africa-based centres of what used to known as Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), and UN agencies including the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
Among the several other notable players is the Regional Strategic Analysis and Knowledge Support System, an Africa-wide network of regional nodes supporting the implementation of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP, not to forget the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Food crops taking centre stage in this regard include maize, sorghum, millets and other cereals; pigeon peas, cowpea, green gram, beans, and other pulses; not to forget cassava, sweet potatoes and other tubers and roots.
Anyone conversant with the history of Africa must be aware of the proverbially strategic importance of these crops at all levels of the continent’s social, cultural and economic development, which would invariably include the role some of them played in traditional ceremonies.
That some of these crops have since lost part of the popularity they once enjoyed while others are no longer to be found only serves to underline the need to study the reasons for that, with a view to seeing what could be done to revive the cultivation of those still likely to stand families and the nation in good stead.
It is heart-warming seeing that Tanzania is not lagging with respect to initiatives hatched and implemented along these lines, if recent reports from the likes of the Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives are anything to go by.
For instance, Tanzanian experts have for years been involved in cassava research and development work. At times, this has been with support from institutions like the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the specialised agency of the United Nations dedicated to eradicating rural poverty in Problems identified include factors like financial constraints, limited extension services, underdeveloped markets and inadequate access to knowledge on crop technologies translating into limited adoption of crop technologies, improved seed varieties, crop processing and storage.
With the weather as unpredictable and therefore unreliable as it is these days, nations across the globe ought to redouble their efforts in agricultural R&D work.
There is every reason for Tanzania to ensure that the relevant research institutions are empowered so that they perform even better in part by continuing to explore ways to revive food crops well known for their resilience even in times of the least conducive weather. We had better take heed and act accordingly.