New cassava breeds become a game changer across Zanzibar

03Jan 2017
The Guardian Reporter
The Guardian
New cassava breeds become a game changer across Zanzibar

RAMADHANI Abdallah is one of the cassava growers at Kianga Village in Tanzania’s semi-autonomous Zanzibar archipelago, who sees the root crop as something important for their lives.

The 65-year-old man says the change came after he adopted the new and improved cassava varieties in his field.

"I personally thank researchers who have come here and provided us with training and new cassava varieties, which has increased production," he said.

"Before the new cassava breeds, I never thought that one day I could be able to buy two cows and build a better brick and iron-sheet house. But, now I am happy to have all these," he said.

Abdallah equates the new cassava varieties with "white gold" due to its socio-economic importance.

Suleiman Ndebe is another farmer who has benefited from the new varieties in the Indian Ocean Island.

Based in the Isles’ village of Machui, Ndebe thanks researchers from the Zanzibar Agricultural Research Institute (ZARI) and other research institutions for coming up with new varieties.

"Our local varieties were susceptible to diseases and the changing weather patterns. For me, cassava farming is a serious venture," he said.

Khalfan Juma Khalfan, a senior researcher at ZARI admits that new breeds have relieved farmers from traumatic experiences they had been encountering.

"For many farmers in Zanzibar, agriculture is their main activity, but in the past they grew crops which they were not sure of harvesting because of diseases and pests," he said.

According to him, the new and improved cassava varieties are free from diseases and can withstand drought, thus have high productivity.

The official recounts that before venturing into serious research, cassava in the tourist island of Zanzibar was under serious threat from brown streak and mosaic diseases.

"As experts, we carried out a survey and came up with the conclusion that all the local varieties grown by farmers were susceptible to diseases, and changing weather patterns.

"So, the next step was to come up with something that would address the challenge and ensure food security for islanders," he said.

He added that researchers on new cassava varieties were being supported by the Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology and other organisations.

Khalfan said the research centre was dishing out new cassava breeds to farmers, who mostly have started seeing their impacts in terms of productivity.

"The new varieties produce four times higher than the traditional one per acre.

It assures farmers of food security and incomes," he said.

Luhaga Mpina, Tanzania’s Deputy Minister of State in the Vice-President’s Office (Union Affairs and Environment) described the research on root and tuber crops like cassava as an important step towards ensuring food security in Zanzibar.

Mpina lauded ZARI for boosting the production and productivity of root and tuber crops, especially cassava and yam, and appealed for more support in cassava value-addition to increase the incomes of smallholder farmers of the crops.

"This is one step. But, it is important for you (researchers) to take the new cassava varieties to small-scale growers across Zanzibar," said Mpina.

Ali Mohamed Shein, the Zanzibar President has been supporting the initiative meant to scale up cassava farming in the Isles.

"In Zanzibar, we have been good eaters of cassava since time immemorial.

"In the morning, we boil fresh cassava for breakfast and cook it with coconut for lunch," he said.

"This way, we will also diversify our incomes," he said, adding that his government valued research and was strengthening ZARI at Kizimbani to serve its people better.

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