ONCE euphemistically called the ‘poor man’s food’ cassava is now billed among top commercial crops, finding industrial use in such sectors as brewery, pharmaceuticals and confectionery.
From its origins in Latin America’s Amazonia, the crop entered Africa through the so-called journeys of discovery in the 15th century, and today the continent accounts for 50 per cent of global production.
Scientists agree that cassava was brought to Africa ‘free of disease’ and it acquired them from the African bush, thanks to world-class research by local scientists, the missing link to those devastating diseases were unravelled in Tanzania about seven years ago – more than 150 years after they were first discovered and named by a German agronomist, again in Tanzania.
Over the years, it has undergone a slow, yet stead transforming from a mere ‘food security’ item to a cash earner. In Tanzania, we have had a rare, if singular, opportunity to take the lead in cassava research work; by 2013 Tanzania was already pushing for increased cassava production after the release of four new varieties resistant to its major agronomic diseases: Cassava mosaic disease and Cassava brown streak virus.
The varieties released at the time were: Makutupora, Dodoma, Mkumba and Pwani – so named after the places where they were subjected to intensive scientific evaluation before their release. These varieties could then almost double yields by between 21 to 51 tonnes/ha from a dismal 10 tonnes to the hectare which then was considered the highest optimal yield.
And, last week we had our scientists calling: This time around, they’re making an appeal to the government to amend some procedures and rules governing the release of seeds to allow farmers to start using a “new arrival” from lab in the Lake Zone – dubbed Tanzania 130.
News of the latest discovery was made available to journalists and government officials by Mr Innocent Ndyetabula, head of the Maruku Research Centre, in briefing remarks during a tour of the facility based in Bukoba District, Kagera Region.
This is welcome news, indeed, coming at a time of increasingly fickle weather conditions these days. We couldn’t ask for more. Kudos to local researchers!