Mbinga District planning officer, Onesmo Mapunda said that the ongoing intervention by Mikocheni Agriculture Research Institute (MARI) to train farmers to produce clean cassava plantlets has given the district a new hope to venture into large plantations to produce raw materials for the much awaited industries.
He was speaking at the cassava farmers field day held at Ilela village, Mikalanga ward in the district recently, which brought together farmers from Mbinga, Butiama, Rorya and Mkinga districts.
The farmers’ field day was part of the activities of the regional cassava disease diagnostic project organized by MARI which is under the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries.
The farmers’ field day aimed at sharing knowledge and experiences on cassava crop production using clean cassava plantlets.
The clean plantlets called Mkombozi which are drought tolerant and resistant to both Cassava Mosaic Disease (CMD) and Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD) were researched and produced by Mikocheni Agriculture Research Institute (MARI).
Addressing thousands of farmers from the four districts, Mapunda said that MARI’s initiative in Mbinga District is in line with the government’s second five year development plan (FYDP II) (2016/17 –2020/21) which focus on industrial economy.
He said that the act by the research institute to give priority to Mbinga farmers and to train hundreds of farmers in the district needed fully support of the district government and the farmers to produce free cassava virus disease plantlets which thwarts cassava mosaic disease (CMD) and cassava Brown Streak diseases (CBSD).
The farmers, men and women were also trained on the causes of the diseases, how to recognise the disease symptoms, how the diseases spread, and the management of CMD and CBSD.
Presidential Science Laureate Dr Joseph Ndunguru from MARI who is coordinating the project said that apart from training hundreds of farmers, the institute has also trained several extension officers in Butiama, Rorya, Mbinga and Mkinga districts.
Dr Ndunguru who is also the officer in charge of MARI said that the established demonstration plots in the districts which are jointly managed by MARI and farmers have shown good results and are now training fields for different packages in managing cassava virus diseases.
According to Dr Ndunguru, cassava annual production in Tanzania is 7million tons per year but cassava mosaic disease (CMD) looses of up to four million metric tonnes per year where as cassava brown streak disease (CBSD) causes a loss of between 35 to 70 million dollars per year.
For his part, the project Assistant Coordinator Dr Fred Tairo said that the strategy is to fast train then recognise and to appreciate the benefits of using clean planting materials in managing the diseases.
He said that in phase two, MARI has trained more than 300 farmers who have acquired knowledge and skills on how to manage the cassava diseases.
“So far we have achieved our objectives. We had planned to reach out three districts namely Butiama, Rorya and Mbinga in three different regions but now we have surpassed our target by reaching another one more district which is Mkinga District in Tanga Region,” he said.
He said the number of demonstration farms have also increased from one farm with at least 20 farmers in the first phase to fifty farmer groups in the second phase, citing an example of Mbinga District where there have been mushrooms of new farm groups on monthly basis.
“We have six farmer groups in Rorya District and eight in Butiama and each group has more than 20 farmers,” he said.
He further explained the farmers have been trained on crop husbandry, and integrated disease management. The Institute has also prepared and distributed several leaflets, brochures and organised farmers field days which involves not only farmer groups but also other willing farmers in their respective districts.
Tairo called on the district councils to join hands and support Mikocheni Agriculture Research Institute (MARI) to upscale the project so that many farmers can benefit.
He also called on other stakeholders like NGO’s with similar objectives to join hands in the fight against the devastating cassava mosaic disease (CMD) and cassava Brown Streak diseases (CBSD).
The guest of honour, Acting Mbinga district administrative officer, Enihard Ngunguru said that cassava mosaic disease (CMD) and cassava Brown Streak diseases (CBSD) have severely damaged cassava crop in Ruvuma Region.
Citing an example, he said in Mbinga District, many farmers had lost hope of the crop and opted growing other crops.
“The farmers here have suffered from the disease due to lack of education on the diseases management. Lack of education has caused low level of production, a situation which threaten food availability in the district,” he said.
He urged Mbinga residents and the farmers in particular to use the opportunity provided by MARI for increased productivity.
Secretary of Upendo farmers group, one of 50 farmer groups involved in the project in Mbinga District which hosted the farmers’ day festivity, Joyce Mapunda explained that the group’s demonstration farm was planted on January 2, 2016.
The farmers are expected to harvest 80 plantlets in a single harvesting season from the farm.
She explained that the harvested plantlets would be distributed to other farmers who face similar challenges.
The visiting farmers from Rorya, Butiama and Mkinga districts described the performance of the new cassava variety being piloted in their districts as “gold” that has rekindled new hope in the cassava disease prone districts.
Speaking on behalf of the visiting farmers, the chairman of Kibubwa farmers group (KFG) of Butiama District Jackson Mbamba said that the new cassava variety has among others rescued many farmers, ensured food security and improve household welfare through income generation.
“We are now better off! Committed farmers to this course are now selling a single bag of plantlets at 20,000/-. We were not used to earning this money before because almost every village had been affected by the diseases,” he said.
According to Dr Joseph Ndunguru who coordinates the project, this is a four year regional project co-funded by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Department for International Development (DFID).
It is granted to Mikocheni Agricultural Research Institute (MARI), as lead Institution. It is implemented in seven countries: Tanzania; Kenya; Uganda; Rwanda; Malawi; Mozambique and Zambia to improved cassava productivity.
This project addresses key aspects of improving cassava productivity and food security including: understanding the threat from evolving viruses and vectors, support clean seed systems for farmers and building sustainable regional capacity.
It also aims to minimise the persistent occurrence of cassava viruses and their associated vectors. It is anticipated that project will benefit cassava farmers, commercial planting materials production, trade and the future development of a cassava-based industry in Tanzania and Africa as a whole.