Bumper harvest for Korogwe maize farmers in the midst of Covid-19

31Aug 2021
Jenifer Gilla
The Guardian
Bumper harvest for Korogwe maize farmers in the midst of Covid-19

THE coronavirus outbreak which has affected the country since last year, was a blessing in disguise for maize farmers in Koroggwe district of Tanga region.

A maize farmer attends to his field.

Smallholder farmers such as 60 years old, Toba Asumani don’t believe their eyes after witnessing a bumper harvest. “I couldn’t believe what was after looking at my neighbour’s farms and see the quality maize cops tangling from their stalks,” Asumani said.

The resident of Kwakombo Village in Kwamsisi Ward, has been a farmer for the past 20 years, said he has never seen anything like it before. He said this year, he got twice the harvest that he got last year from his one hectare farm.

"In the past years I used to harvest 35 backs of maize from five hectares, an equivalent of seven bags per hectare, this year I am sure of getting 75 bags thanks to use of this tractor,” he said saying the tractor is also used for transportation of the commodity.

“If the prices are good, I expect to earn not less than 3m/- by selling each 100kgs bag at 40,000/-. "I will spend the money to take care of my family including paying for my children's school  fees,” Asumani added saying last year, he only earned 1.2m/- from the same farm after selling 30 bags of maize.

The secret behind Asumani and many other farmers in Korogwe district is the use of climate change resilient seeds introduced in the area by Korogwe District Council, as panacea to fight food insecurity and malnutrition in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Situation before

Kwakombo Village Chairman, Rashidi Salim (55) said with a population of 1,700 people of which 90 percent depend on maize as a staple food but also for income generation, maize yields were deteriorating in recent years.

"In recent years, maize yields have been declining such that it came to a point where some farmers stopped cultivating it or reduced farm sizes which brought the village on the verge of starvation,” Salim said adding that as a result, they struggled to survive. The situation was reported to extension officers who decided to introduce the new climate resilient variety,” he said.

"“The extension officers brought us 300 kilograms of DK8031 and DK 9089 maize seeds, at least 75 farmers received four sacks of hybrid seeds each but also trained us on how to better cultivate them,” the Kwakombo Village Chairman added.

Another smallholder farmer who benefitted from the hybrid seed donation was Antihuman Ally who said that the difference was clearly from use of traditional seeds.

"I got 14 bags of maize from my one hectare farm compared to only three that I got last year,” he confessed while pointing out that he plans to invest in poultry business when he sells his maize from which he expects an income of 800,000/-.

Covid-19 donation

The pilot seed project in Korogwe was launched by Agricultural Council of Tanzania (ACT) in partnership with Dayer Seed Company with an objective of helping villagers fight hunger and malnutrition in the midst of the Covid-19 outbreak hence the name, ‘Covid Donation 2020.’

Head of Department of Agriculture and Irrigation at Korogwe Town Council, Ramadhani Sekija said the project is also aimed at helping Korogwe urban and rural communities boost food production to improve nutrition.

"We received ten tons of hybrid seeds of which we distributed five tons to Korogwe Urban and another five to Korogwe Rural which in total benefitted 1,197 smallholder farmers,” Sekija said other beneficiaries also included 10 institutions and 33 extension officers who had demonstration plots.

Sensitization on use of hybrid seeds

Kwamsisi Ward Agriculture Officer, Said Sharif said that distribution of the seeds went hand in hand with sensitization on the importance of using climate resilient hybrid seeds. “Basically use of these should go hand in hand with knowledge of the effects of climate change in agriculture so that farmers understand the need to properly use them to avoid low yields that may lead to hunger and malnutrition,” Sharif said.

Many were motivated

The sensitization on how best to use modern hybrid seeds has given an incentive to desperate farmers who abandoned the cultivation of maize but have since been persuaded to return to commercial farming of the commodity.

One such farmer is 60 year old Fatuma Mgolo who said, “I was disappointed with the falling yields but after sensitization and getting these hybrid seeds, I decided to restart,” Mgolo said saying her decision has paid off. The mother of four, however admitted that after abandoning maize cultivation for two years, her family’s life was hard because there was no alternative means of earning more and getting food.

Situation is worse in neighbouring villages

While Kwamsisi residents are enjoying bumper harvests thanks to introduction of the hybrid maize, other neighbouring villages are still in the dark about the future of maize farming, due to outdated traditional farming practices.

Kwangumi Ward has one such village where despite the shift from commercial farming to subsistence farming some years ago, climate change has negatively impacted on yields. "Last year it did not rain on time so I only managed to harvest one bag and this year, the rain did not come on time, I cultivated maize again but only got 20kgs for a whole hectare,” said Maudi Semkiwa.

Let the work to continue

Director of Food Security Department at Ministry of Agriculture, Dr Honest Kessy assured the country of food safety and security backed by nutritious food. "Our maize production is good, last year we produced 18.2 million metric tons and this year we expect more because we have worked on pests which destroy crops but also encourage farmers to use climate-resilient seeds that are high yielding,” Dr Kessy said.

A report by Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) on Crop Prospects and Food Situation (2020), said that 32 out of 44 countries currently needing external assistance for food are in Africa, including Tanzania and other Sub Saharan countries.

It elaborates that drought, floods and other shocks may have exacerbate  food insecurity conditions locally while only few countries are on track to achieve SDG 2 of target of 50% reduction in the number of stunted  children by 2030.

Meanwhile Word Food Program (WFP), Tanzania estimate that slowdown in social economic activities and a partial or full lockdown, will significantly affect income and food security in urban areas hence up to 2.1 million people may need food assistance as a result of the socioeconomic impacts of COVID-19 in Tanzania.

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