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There are more sides to maize than one

There are more sides to maize than one

VITALIS Nyaki is one of the country's maize farmers who has been battling various challenges to achieve his goal of harvesting more maize.

Nyaki is a Simanjiro farmer in Manyara region who explains that climate change has led to lack of rainfall, pests and diseases in the crops they grow.

He says in his farm he has fought pests that started eating maize when they were just three weeks old, causing damage that resulted in loss.

He is one of the many farmers who face the challenge of pests, diseases and drought and who does not have any idea of the right place to run for advice.

Despite these challenges, in Tanzania maize has become a commercial and food crop where it has been producing surplus food and enough for exporting.

One of the major buyers of the crop is Kenya along with other stakeholders, including the World Food Program (WFP).

It should be noted that maize crop contributes approximately 20 percent of the GDP from Agriculture (National Agricultural Policy, 2013). Therefore, any problem that threatens its availability is quickly addressed by the government.

The Maize Crop Coordinator from the Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute (TARI), Ilonga Center in Kilosa, Morogoro, Dr Arnold Mushongi says on average the country produces about six million tonnes a year but has a production capacity of 18 million tonnes.

According to him, reaching 18 tons of maize production is possible if best practices for maize farming are followed.

In African countries, maize is consumed directly by humans, unlike other countries such as North America where it is used as a staple food for livestock and is also a raw material for various industries.

Regarding TARI's contribution to the nation in maize crop, formal research and development of maize crops in Tanzania began in the early 1970s and has continued every year.

According to him, the growth of the study is in line with consumer demand, population growth, industrial demand, marketing, climate challenges, science, technology and innovation.

Thus, the research conducted by TARI along with other stakeholders in and outside the country takes into account all these changes that stimulate the growth of maize crop production in the country.

He says the biggest challenge in the crop in recent years is lack of a formal system for visualizing and expanding the various uses of maize crop which has led to reducing market opportunities forcing farmers to keep their maize at home.

"It should be noted that maize is one of the most widely used crops in the world, but for developing countries like Tanzania, by not benefiting from the broad spectrum of value chains is still posing as a major challenge.

"This includes low awareness of farmers in achieving and applying the best principles of maize farming including information, knowledge, statistics, inputs, tools," he says, adding that general agriculture is still a major barrier to productivity growth, productivity, and reliable and sustainable markets.

Another challenge, he says, is climate change which is associated with drought, pests in the fields and barns, because temperature, humidity and nutrients are very important factors in the growth of living organisms including maize and even organic pests.

"So climate change is a very sensitive criterion. We need to work on the challenge of climate change rather than relying on sustainable agriculture, including relying on rainfall, cultivating traditional seeds even when they are no longer productive, not using fertilizers because of traditions and customs that delay us from taking steps to promote and boost the maize crop industry in the country,” he says.

He says in recent years, there has been a challenge of new invasive pests such as diseases including maize wilting, carrot weeds and invasion of locusts.

Control of these pests has been a challenge as they are new to Tanzania and beyond, especially sub-Saharan Africa because understanding these pests requires new knowledge and information to access control measures, including new pesticides and appropriate agricultural regulations to adapt to change.

To deal with these biological disturbances, experts need to understand the reproductive system, growth and distribution, the intake system, the mechanism of how pests cause damage from the farm up to the entire value chain.

"To a large extent, this problem comes from across the borders and enter our country. For example, invading locusts and maize wilt originated from the United States along with carrot weed,”he says.

He says the challenges are compounded by the low income of the farmer even if he has the knowledge and experience to make the right decision to improve productivity in the crop.

So TARI solves those challenges by conducting participatory research and training for stakeholders.

Research products from TARI include various publications on the value chain, technologies to respond to stakeholder problems such as valuable seeds and market needs, conferences and research discussions and preparing friendly guidelines for each stakeholder in the value chain.

“TARI is governed by Act No. 10 of 2016 whereby it is responsible for overseeing, conducting and coordinating all agricultural research activities in the country,” he says.

Due to the biology and ecology present in the country in the maize system, TARI ensures that maize crop research brings about the expected revolution in the development of the farmer and the nation at large.

Due to biological and ecological criteria in maize crops, even research challenges vary depending on the region in question.

He explains how biotechnology can help the crop because the growth of science and technology also goes hand in hand with the demand and use of biotechnology. To a large extent, biotechnology in the agricultural sector in the country is still used in professional research especially in laboratories.

Biotechnological research for the actual development of the farmer and other consumers is still underway for a variety of reasons, including different understanding, coordination, management, legal and policy issues among Tanzanians.

“Guidelines and the use of biotechnology in the country in improving agriculture and its products is there legally. Moreover, it should be noted that not every problem is solved by one type of solution.

"Similarly, biotechnology is not the catalyst for every problem for the development of our agriculture and the nation. There are other challenges affecting the maize crop that will not be solved by conventional means alone. So we need specific biotechnology or integration with conventional methods and biotechnology to ensure the challenges affecting the maize industry across the broad spectrum of the value chain are tackled,” he says.

He adds that the second technology used is to produce more clean and safe seeds in a shorter period of time and using the bottle method known as ‘Tissue Culture’.

 

He says this is a method that has been used for a long time and is very useful, especially for garden crops like flowers, vegetables and fruits.

Also, he says this technology is used for crops that are hard to access their seeds quickly and reliably the technology, with a good example being bananas and other crops that are highly susceptible to diseases that are difficult to get their seeds easily.

With regard to genetically engineered technology (GMO), as well as the emerging generation of biotechnology, he says in Tanzania these technologies are in the process of being studied before they are allowed to be used by Tanzanians.

 Although different countries have joined forces in the invention, discovery, reception and application of these generations of technologies, Africa is still lagging behind, with the champions being the world's most economically, scientifically and technologically advanced nations.

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