Scientists, agriculture researchers and farmers taking part in the on-farm demonstration plots of the three newly released drought tolerant maize hybrids have described the performance of the new varieties as a breakthrough to drought and common maize diseases.
In recent years, farmers across the country have suffered from drought and maize diseases such as maize leaf rust, and streak and gray leaf spot among many others.
These have reduced and at times paralysing their full production capacity of the crop in some regions.
The newly released maize hybrid varieties by Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project were demonstrated recently at Agriculture Research Institute-Ilonga, Kilosa district.
The new hybrids are WE2109, WE2112, and WE2113 and they are adapted to both low and mid attitude ecologies.
Speaking during a tour of the sites, Wema project product development team leader Dr Barnabas Kiula said the varieties were evaluated across three seasons from 2011 to 2013 in the multi sites of Ifakara in Kilombero District and Dakawa in Mvomero District.
Other sites were Ngaramtoni in Arusha District, Kilimatembo village in Karatu District and Makutupora in Dodoma Region.
The maize varieties are now being demonstrated at four locations of Vitonga village in Mvomero District, Kilimatembo village in Karatu District, Ilonga in Kilosa District and at Kabuku village in Handeni District.
He said that apart from production of the hybrids, the project has also involved different seed firms to start production of certified seeds so as to fulfill the high demands shown by farmers.
Dr Kiula who is also the head of Maize Research Sub-Programme at the Agriculture Research Institute (ARI-Ilonga) said that further research is underway to come up with other new hybrid varieties every year.
“When you have many varieties, you automatically create more chances to farmers to grow varieties which they like most. Also, the chance of maize succumbing to diseases becomes low as these cultivars are genetically different from each other,” he said.
Commending the performance of the new hybrids, he said farmers braving for low maize productivity in low and mid attitudes will soon be relieved of their problems.
“Tanzanians should start using these new hybrids to increase their incomes and enhance their standards of living,” he said.
He adds: “Today, we have agreed with at least three seed companies-- Meru Agro, Soba Agaro and Agree Seed to venture in certified seed production of the new hybrids.”
He said that the project was looking for other more seed producers such as contract growers if possible to assist in the multiplication of parents of the hybrids.
Furthermore, at ARI-Ilonga the Wema project has developed an Isolation crossing block (ICB) for maintenance and multiplication of parental lines of the hybrids,” he said.
For their part, the farmers at Vitonga village, Mlali ward, Mvomero District said that as opposed to other maize varieties, the new hybrids were healthy, strong and potential in terms of high yields, drought and common maize diseases.
Abdallah Seleman, said that when he planted one of the new hybrids on March 16, this year, it took only few weeks to outsmart other maize varieties.
“For many years the farmers in our villages have braved low maize productivity due to lack of rains. With these new maize hybrid varieties, I think this situation is going to be history,” he said.
Gaitan Kulinyagwa and Alfreda Jonas who are among the farmers who have planted the new hybrids in their demonstration plots in March this rain season said, unlike other maize varieties, the new hybrid varieties have not shown any maize disease symptoms, let alone the drought.
They said in other maize varieties, the farmers usually experience some insects which feed on maize and reduce the ability of the growing maize to reach maturity, while yields are reduced as well.
“Maize diseases or insects are very bad. They reduce production yet we have little resources to manage them. So, the new varieties will help poor farmers to get better yield,” they said.
The water efficient Maize for Africa (Wema) is a joint project involving the regional countries of Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, Mozambique and Tanzania.
In Tanzania this project is managed by the Commission for Science and Technology (Costech) in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives through the department of research development (DRD).