AfDB-funded project to boost cassava, rice production launched in Tanzania

A project that seeks to increase food security and improve the income and living standards of small-holder farmers in 20 African countries was launched last week in Tanzania. The project, ‘Multinational – CGIAR Support to Agricultural Research for Development of Strategic Crops in Africa (SARD-SC)” and supported by the Africa Development Bank (AfDB) will improve the value chains of four important staple crops – maize, wheat, cassava and rice.

The project was officially launched by Dr. Khalid S. Mohammed, Principal Secretary, Ministry of State, Second Vice President Office, Zanzibar, United Republic of Tanzania, who assured the participants of his government’s support to the initiative which he said was in line with his government’s efforts to develop the agriculture sector, one of the key drivers of the country’s economic growth.

Dr Mohammed noted that while nearly 80% of Tanzania’s 40 million people depended entirely on agriculture for their livelihoods and that, the smallholder farmers supplied nearly 95% of the country’s food requirement, the levels of productivity and production for major crops were very low.
“In Zanzibar our cassava farmers get around 2-3 tons per hectare (t/ha while those of rice get around 0.8t/ha. Yet, with good varieties and good farming practices, they can increase production even up to five times,” he said. “We eat 60,000t of rice per year but we grow only 20,000t, and therefore import
40,000t, nearly two thirds of the rice we need.”

“I would like to assure you that the Government of United Republic of Tanzania and Revolutionary Government of Zanzibar will provide all the necessary support to ensure the success of this project to improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers who depend on these three crops for their
livelihoods,” he informed the project team and partners.

The Director General of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) – which is the project’s executing agency, Dr Nteranya Sanginga, said that this partnership-project holds great potential to improve the livelihood of smallholders through improving the value chains of the four
priority crops in Africa – cassava, maize, rice and wheat.

Speaking at the launch, Dr Sanginga said that the project was in line with IITA’s research strategy that was moving away from focusing only on increasing production to working along the value chains to ensure farming becomes a profitable business and that people are able to make money from
research products.

Using cassava as an example, Sanginga said the crop can transform the lives of smallholder farmers in the country if its diverse uses both as a food and a source of industrial raw material such as starch, high quality cassava flour, ethanol among others, are well exploited.

The Tanzania country representative of the AfricaRice Center, which is leading the rice component of the project, Dr Paul Kiepe, said that the project will support rice production in the country by promoting good farming agronomic practices and mechanization – the two main challenges of
rice production.

“Together with national researches, we have made good progress in developing improved high-yielding varieties. However, if farmers do not practice good farming methods and move away from manual labor, they will not realize the full potential of these varieties,” he said.

The project’s cassava work will be carried out in Zanzibar, the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT) area and Kigoma while that of rice will be carried out in Mwanza/Shinyanga area.

The District Commissioner for Kakonko District in Kigoma region, which is one of the project sites, Toima Kiroya, welcomed the initiative noting that cassava had been earmarked as one of the cash crops to replace tobacco production in the district.

‘Cassava is going to be an important cash crop for the people of Kakonko, as an alternative for tobacco production which degrades environment, is affecting honey production and is hazardous to human health,’ he said.

Ameri Salum a farmer from Machui village in Zanzibar, also at the launch, said they were eagerly waiting for the project to increase cassava and rice production in the island.

“We are waiting to get better varieties that are resistant to diseases and pests and early maturing that will outperform the varieties we have – and farming inputs, such as fertilizers, to increase production. And once we increase production, the project will help us find markets for our produce and also processing,” he said.

The SARD-SC project is a US$86.94 -million initiative that targets to demonstrate by 2016, that it is possible to increase the yields of cassava, maize, rice and wheat by at least 20% on smallholders’ farms; increase the smallholder’s household cash income to $600 from the current $370; and increase food security by at least 20% to 84% from the present 73%.

The project is being implemented in twenty countries: Benin Republic, Cote d’Ivoire, DR Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. However, its spill-over effects will be felt in many other countries across the continent.

In addition to IITA leading the cassava value chain and AfricaRice center leading the rice value chain, other partners in the project include the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) which will take lead the work on wheat value chain and International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) which will be responsible for strengthening the capacity of farmers’ groups to adopt the technologies generated.

Others are relevant government ministries, agricultural research institutes, Sokoine University of Agriculture, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), private sector and farmers’ organizations.

Written by Issa Chuki

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