AGRICULTURE

by David Brewin

Drones and Crop Data
Scientists from various research institutions, including the University of Nairobi, the International Potato Centre (CIP) in partnership with the University of Missouri and regional civil aviation authorities in Tanzania are working on a pilot project where a drone was able to pinpoint 14 different varieties of sweet potatoes at the Ukiriguru Agricultural research Institute near Mwanza.

This drone-based remote sensing technology is being described as a ‘game changer’ in the gathering of agricultural statistical data. It is relatively cheaper than other methods, boasts high quality sensors, and allows collection of accurate data on a large scale with minimal effects from clouds or rain, which, in some areas, blur images taken by satellites. The drone is able to map everything on the ground, after which the data is processed by specialised software to enable scientists to zero in on their area of interest.

The drones can gather data on all food crops in a particular area and point out diseases and water-stressed areas thus making them an important tool in irrigation scheduling. The drones have been known to detect diseases in a field two weeks before the symptoms become obvious to the human eye. Sweet potatoes are being used as the pilot crop.

Drone technology can also help identify the right pesticides to use on plants. The images captured by the drone can also map areas on a farm where there are diseases or a lack of soil nutrients. The locally assembled drones, known as ‘Octocopters’, have eight multi-rotors and a maximum range of 200 metres from the ground. They can carry up to 2.5kg including the weight of the drone and a 1kg regular camera equipped with specialised sensors. The equipment is powered by rechargeable batteries that can each last 10 minutes per session.

Repossessing Idle Land
According to a report in the East African on 20 February 2016, Tanzania is planning to identify underdeveloped parcels of land with the aim of repossessing them. Minster for Lands William Lukuvi has announced that ownership of idle land would be revoked and the land re-allocated as part of wider efforts to end long-standing land disputes in many parts of the country and to ensure equitable distribution of land. A special audit would be part of a $15 million land tenure support programme. “Our intention is to identify those holding large areas and farms without developing them. We will revoke their title deeds and give the land to those in need. Any investor who needs land should come to my office with a business plan and I will give them land in any region even Dar es Salaam” said the Minister.

‘We want our land back’
Villagers in Hanang district, Manyara Region, whose land has been taken over in recent years under various schemes of the defunct National Agricultural and Food Corporation (NAFCO) have been complaining for years at the loss of their land.

This first happened in 1969 for a large capital-intensive Canadian-supported wheat project. In the 1980s some 100,000 acres were under wheat cultivation and the wheat produced met at least one third of the nation’s total demand. However, the scheme collapsed in 2003 after Canada had invested $44 million. (see TA 51 and TA 29 for some background).

The government then invited private investors to develop the land but this has not pleased the local people who are now pleading with President Magufuli to help them to get back their land.

Insect threat to tomatoes in Zanzibar
The tomato leaf miner, scientifically known as tuta absoluta, which has been prevalent in the Arusha region of Tanzania since 2014, before spreading to other parts of the Tanzanian mainland, has now arrived in Zanzibar. One mainland farm manager was quoted as saying that they had lost nearly a thousand tonnes of tomatoes worth 350,000 dollars.

Zanzibar has called in experts from mainland Tanzania to help it to bring the insect under control.

Five forestry officials suspended
After inspecting parts of the Kalamazoo Forest in Rukwa Region during a surprise visit, Minister of Natural Resources and Tourism, Prof. Jumanne Maghembe, suspended five senior forestry officials for mismanagement. He stated that this action was preliminary to the launching of an investigation into allegedly gross mismanagement which had allowed illegal harvesting of logs worth TSh 500 billion. The Minister issued a 10-day ultimatum to the Tanzanian Forest Service to move logs to a nearby police station where they would be auctioned with the revenue being deposited in government coffers.

The local District Commissioner also revealed that unscrupulous log traders were colluding with some dishonest leaders and forestry officials to harvest the prohibited ‘mkurungu’ tree logs at night and export them to Zambia.

Evolution in ‘Darwin’s Puddle’.
In a volcanic crater lake in Tanzania, two species have emerged from one fish according to an article in the London Financial Times (Thank you Jill Bowden for sending this – Editor).

The writer of the article Clive Cookson said that evolutionary theory suggested that there must be some geographical or physical barrier. Otherwise, constant genetic mixing would keep the population as one species. Observation of small fish called cichlids, evolving rapidly in East African lakes, show that barrier-free divergence, known technically as ‘sympatric speciation’, does sometimes take place. Lake Malawi, for example, contains more than 500 different cichlid species that must have evolved from just a few originators – an evolutionary burst that has led biologist to call the lake ‘Darwin’s Pond’.

The diversity and complexity make it hard for scientists to disentangle the genetic processes involved. UK researchers from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and Bristol, Bangor and Cambridge Universities, are investigating the much smaller Lake Massoko, a volcanic crater lake in Tanzania, where two species are emerging from a single cichlid. The evidence from Lake Massoko, which they dub ‘Darwin’s Puddle’, appears in the journal Science.

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