FARMERS in Dar es Salaam and Coast Regions are expecting to benefit from new and improved varieties of amaranth as one of the most commonly produced and consumed indigenous vegetables in Tanzania and Africa.
In Tanzania, amaranth constitutes about 5.3 per cent of total vegetable planted annually. The vegetable is cultivated in all regions in the country.
Amaranth can be consumed as a green vegetable or a grain. The crop is easy to grow, heat-drought-and-salttolerant, and has few diseases.
The grain is protein-rich in 16 per cent, with balanced amino acid content. Leaves are high in micronutrients, including vitamin C, provitamin A, calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron and phosphorus.
According to Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute, Mikocheni Centre (TARI Mikocheni), there are over 20 local amaranth varieties cultivated in Tanzania and other four improved varieties would be developed under the Amazing Amaranth project.
Project coordinator Dr. Ruth Minja told farmers and other stakeholders during a Farmers’ Field Day held at TARI Mikocheni-Chambezi Centre in Bagamoyo District recently that researchers have established amaranth demonstration plots on how to adopt the new technologies for cultivating amaranth through improved varieties.
Under the project Amazing Amaranth (Mchicha) that aims at developing nutritious amaranth lines and food practices to improve nutrition in East African, researchers will release other four improved varieties that will result in increased production and consumption to benefit smallholder farm households and consumers.
The five-year project, which started in 2018 to 2021, is expected to benefit over 150 farmers and other stakeholders in the value chain across Tanzania. Such regions as Kilimanjaro, Arusha, Mwanza, Iringa, Dodoma would be involved.
The project is implemented in Kenya and Tanzania “These are demonstration plots established by TARI Mikocheni-Chambezi Research Centre as part of disseminating knowledge, techniques and new improved varieties to Coast and Dar es Salaam farmers. This project aims to develop hardy and nutritious amaranth lines and food practices to improve nutrition in East Africa,” Dr. Minja said.
He explained that the project started in 2018 for phase one and it was expected to end next year with the aim of developing improved varieties focused on nutritional content to Tanzanians.
“Now we are developing new varieties for our farmers. They include Madeira 2, Nguruma, Aker, Poli and Madiral. We collaborate with development partners and value chain actors to maximise the impact of new amaranth varieties,” said Dr. Minja.
“We have released three varieties, including poll - both leaves and grain can be used, Nguruma only leaves are used and Aker. We expect to release four other varieties after the ongoing Amazing Amaranth project.”
Amazing Amaranth will broaden and intensify the use of amaranth germplasm for developing improved varieties, focus on nutritional content as a breeding objective, and form close collaborations with development partners and value chain actors to maximise the impact of new amaranth varieties.
Dr Minja mentioned three common types of amaranth used as leaves, grain and those used as grain and leaves. Bagamoyo District Executive Director, Fatuma Latu said the project helped to increase production and availability of modern amaranth varieties and nutrients to consumers.
“This also brings changes to our national economy and people at large since production is higher. It helps to improve the health of people by increasing nutrition, vitamins and calcium in their bodies. We should adopt new technology from researchers to overcome our agricultural challenges,” Ms Latu said.
She called on farmers to come up in big numbers at TARI Mikocheni- Chambezi Centre in Bagamoyo District where demonstration plots were established to improve knowledge on use of modern technologies to increase production.
Ms Latu noted that many Tanzanians did not understand the nutrition value of amaranth as they thought it was only for poor people, adding that it also helps to reduce malnutrition to children.
“It is heat and drought tolerant and resistant to many diseases and helps in food security, nutrition and vitamins to the people,” she said.
TARI Mikocheni Manager Dr. Zuberi Bira said the Amazing Amaranth would help increase production, consumption, nutrients and reduce malnutrition in many children in Tanzania.
He added TARI Mikocheni had mandated to deal with biotechnology and research on coconut as their main crop and others to improve and increase base income to farmers through new and modern technologies.
“Our main aim is to release new varieties of amaranth to improve nutrition to our people. Most people are not aware of the importance of amaranth. Investment in amaranth research and development will contribute to better livelihoods and nutrition in Tanzania and other African countries,” he noted.
Edwin Philipo, an amaranth farmer at Mabwepande in Kinondoni District encouraged farmers to use traditional pesticides to improve their production and income.
He encouraged fellow farmers to practice amaranth farming method that was established by researchers to get full nutrients from the crop.
For her part, Mariam Mchayungu, a farmer in Bagamoyo District, said that after getting knowledge from researchers in 2018 production in his farm increased tremendously.
“We adhere to the directives given by our researchers, including planting in space, using improved seeds and other good farming practices to move from traditional farming to modern agriculture. Under the Amazing Amaranth project we are able to use improved varieties that help many farmers increase production to householders,” she said.
Commenting, Kinondoni Extension Agriculture Officer Mr Salehe Hija said amaranth was the most popular vegetable variety in Tanzania.
“Many amaranth farmers in Kinondoni district will benefit from Amazing Amaranth project aimed to increase production and incomes to smallholder farmers in the area. “We thank researchers who developed new and improved varieties that add nutrients to our bodies,” he said.
Amaranth (Amaranthus spp.) originates from Central America and was introduced to Africa in the 20th century. There are over 60 amaranth species globally.
TARI Director General Dr. Geofrey Mkamilo said over the years, TARI has developed a number of improved varieties and educated farmers on the right ways of using pesticides in a bid to help farmer’s stick on modern farming practices to increase their incomes while overcoming climate change challenges.
Agriculture plays a critical role in the economy and livelihood. Tanzania has over 44 million hectares of arable land with only 33 per cent under cultivation and about 6 5 per cent of Tanzania’s population depends on agriculture for food, income, health, employment and raw materials for agro-processing industries.
TARI was established under Act No. 10 of 2016 as a semi-autonomous body of the government under the Ministry of Agriculture.
Its objectives is to conduct research by developing technologies and innovations, regulating research activities, promoting and disseminating the developed technologies and innovation and coordinating all agricultural research activities in the country