AGRICULTURE

by David Brewin

Relaxation of restrictions on GM Crops
Assistant Director of Crop Research at the Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives Husain Mansoor has announced that scien­tists will, in future, be allowed able to carry out confined field trials of Genetically Modified crops without fear.

Under the previous regulations a strict liability clause had meant that scientists, donors or partners funding research could be held accounta­ble in the event of any damage that might occur during or after research on GM crops.

The new rules allow scientists to carry out confined field trials of GM crops to find out their effects on humans and the environment. Plant materials would have to be enclosed within a laboratories or green­houses and field trials would be undertaken only in specific areas, usu­ally small pieces of land set aside for experiments.

For some time Tanzanian scientists have been keen to pursue their trials on drought-resistant and insect-tolerant maize under a new interna­tional project entitled “Water efficient maize for Africa and cassava vari­eties resistant to mosaic and brown streak diseases”. It is anticipated that this project will promote drought-tolerant and insect-protected maize using conventional breeding methods. Its goal is to make these varieties available royalty free to smallholder farmers through seed companies associated with the Nairobi-based ‘African Agricultural Technology Foundation’, the coordinating agency.

Scientists plan to carry out the first confined field trials of GM modified maize tolerant to drought and pests this year and hope to commercialise it when research is completed in coming years.

Revival Plan for Cotton
Cotton has been, for many years, a mainstay of Tanzania’s economy. During the last three years, however, production has declined substan­tially.

In 2011/12 350,000 tonnes were produced, but this dropped to 246,000 tonnes in 2012/13 and just 201,000 tonnes the following year.
The cotton is largely grown by small-scale farmers owing farms of between two and ten hectares. It is 100 percent rain-fed and not irri­gated, as in many other countries,

In these circumstances, Director General of the Tanzania Cotton Board, Gabriel Mwalo, accompanied by many experts and others involved in the industry, held a significant press conference in Dar es Salaam recently.

He expressed concern about the state of production and admitted that the Cotton Board had not played its part well, but pointed out that the industry was handicapped by a lack of a reliable input supply system and that there had been frequent changes in world market prices. He said that these had greatly affected performance in terms of yield per hectare.

The decision to liberalise the cotton industry in the early 1990s had been a success although it was still facing a number of challenges. The number of ginneries had increased from 36 in 1993 to 56 and the number of cotton buyers had also increased to about 35 companies which had largely taken over from a handful of large regional cooperative unions.

Speaking about cotton seed he stated that in the last season almost 17,000 tonnes of fuzzy seeds and 1,200 tonnes of de-linted seeds had been distributed. He said that there was a high demand for clean seeds for oil milling purposes but this demand could jeopardise the availabil­ity of good seeds for planting. There were no cotton seed production farms in the country so that the industry had had to depend entirely on seed cotton produced by the small farmers themselves.

He said that the problem of poor seed germination could best be dealt with through contract farming, where farmers’ business groups would be the centres of cotton sales and custodians of their own products.

He added that in embracing contract farming, the system of using gin­ners would be abolished. Such a model of cotton production would not only assure farmers of better seeds for planting but would also ensure quality yields and high incomes since cheating through weighing scales would no longer be there. The lasting solution was to use certified seeds.

France interested in Tanzania’s Fisheries and Livestock
During the first Franco-Tanzanian Economic Forum held in Paris in March 2015, organised by the French Business Confederation (the most representative organisation of the private sector in France), French investors showed considerable interest in investing in livestock and fisheries in Tanzania, according to Tanzania’s Minister for Fisheries and Livestock Development Dr Titus Kamani, who attended the forum.

Sale of maize surplus
Last year Tanzania harvested a record 2.5 million tonnes of maize. The country then began talks with China so as to find a market for this huge surplus. America previously supplied China with maize but Beijing suspended the deal after the US started using genetically modified tech­nology in maize growing. China’s growing demand for maize is driven by population and economic growth.

During the last three years Tanzania has been harvesting more food crops than it can consume having enjoyed 118 percent food sufficiency in 2013.

Tractor Assembly
The Tanzanian farming system is largely dominated by smallholders cultivating average farm sizes of between 0.9 and 3.0 hectares and mechanisation is limited. The government has now received a loan of €50 million from Poland to help it in assembling Polish tractors locally. It is understood that Tanzania will start assembling the tractors this year.

Grape Juice Processing
The TIB Development Bank is providing TSh 729 million in loans to construct two major ultra-modern grape processing plants in the Dodoma Region. This will enable grape producers to start sell­ing millions of litres of grape juice to Kenyan and South African wine companies. At the initial stage of development of this new industry Chamwino District farmers received financial support from the CRDB Bank to grow more than 300 hectares of grapes. The project is reported to be going well.

“Milk production needs to be increased”
At a recent conference on climate change, a senior lecturer in Animal Science at Sokoine University of Agriculture, Dr Msalya, said that in a study conducted in 2014, although Tanzania had huge potential for milk production its actual production was only some 2.3 billion litres. This was far below UN Food and Agriculture global standards which are based on consumption of 200 litres per person annually. In order to reach this standard Tanzania needed to step up its production to 9 billion litres per year.

Dr Msalya mentioned various problems including the case of a small project under which goats from Norway had been supplied to small­holders to help them produce goat milk. However, the project had had to be abandoned as those involved started to sell the goats rather than market the goat milk.

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