Tanzania agronomists borrow leaf from Swaziland farmers

A team of agronomists from Kagera region is expected to visit Swaziland, which is among major banana producing countries south of the Sahara, to learn modern banana technologies.

For many decades, residents in Kagera had been producing and depend on bananas as their main food crop. Banana is a staple food crop for about 2.9 million people in Kagera region produced by smallholders.

These farmers also generate income from the sale of banana bunches and derived products (especially the local banana brew) within and outside the region.

It is estimated that over 95 per cent of the households in the region are involved in small-scale agriculture, with banana, bean and coffee cultivation being the main agricultural activities.

Kagera Regional Commissioner (RC), Mr Albert Chalamila explained that after the training, the agronomists will impart the knowledge to farmers.

“We are finalizing plans to send a team of agronomists to Swaziland, which is among major banana producing countries south of the Sahara, to learn modern technologies on how to improve production of the crop,” he said.

Equally, he appealed to residents in the area to diversify bananas as an alternative cash crop to the traditional coffee.

Banana production has declined over the past decades due to pests, diseases and declining soil fertility. To offset this trend, the government in collaboration with other stakeholders initiated a propagation and diffusion of superior banana varieties and show different levels of tolerance to most of the banana pests and diseases.

Ms Jojianas Kibura, a Senior Researcher at the Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute (TARI) Maruku explained that since the 1960’s, banana yields started to decline due to pests, especially nematodes and weevils, diseases, adverse weather conditions and deterioration in soil fertility.

She explained that efforts were being made to get funds to conduct education seminars among schools to enable children to get knowledge on how to make banana cakes that will compliment meal frequencies and increase Vitamin A.

Mr Baraka Louis, an Agricultural Officer at the regional secretariat revealed that during 2018/2019 season, banana production was 2,335,547 metric tonnes, cereal crops (265,916 metric tonnes), root crops (1,091,882 metric tons) while legumes were 168,803 metric tonnes.

It is estimated that banana yields fell from ten tons per hectare to about four tons per hectare. Farmers in the affected areas started to turn to root and cereal crops as alternative staple foods.

However, efforts have been taken to multiply high yielding banana varieties with different levels of tolerance to most of the banana pests and diseases. Among the varieties include tumbago, lai, apantu, etoo, biila and pisang. The varieties will soon be supplied to farmers for the planting season.

These varieties are tolerant to various combinations of the major banana production constraints, which are nematodes, weevils, panama disease, black sigatoka, low soil fertility and drought.

Bananas are also important in fighting malnutrition…they are very rich in Vitamin A. People should be educated on how to add value to bananas.

Kagera Region was among regions with high rate of stunting among children aged below five years, which currently stood at 39.8 per cent while the national average stood at 34 per cent.

Kagera Regional Nutrition Officer, Yusuf   Hamis disclosed that a recent initial baseline survey indicated that about 224,364 children aged below five years in Kagera region were stunted.

Minimum acceptable diet stood at 18.1 per cent compared to the national average of 30.3 per cent. The rate of continued breastfeeding at two years stood at 44.4 per cent while the national average was 43.3 per cent. The rate of exclusive breastfeeding stood at 85 per cent and meal frequency per day stood at 55 per cent.

Other regions with high rate of stunting in brackets include Njombe (53.6 per cent), Iringa (47.1 per cent), Rukwa (47.9 p.c.), Songwe (43.3 p.c.), Kigoma (42.3 p.c.)  and Ruvuma (41.0 per cent).

While some efforts have been made to reduce the rate of stunting from 41.7 per cent during 2015/16 to 39.8 per cent during 2018/2019, more efforts are still needed. It is high time every person cooperates to realize the goal of malnutrition- free in Kagera Region. Without necessary actions, children will remain at greater risk in the region.

Kagera Region had enough food varieties, including bananas, beans and fisheries resources notably from Lake Vitoria and 14 satellite lakes…. food availability is not a problem. Families should be educated on the best food varieties to eat on a daily basis.

Kagera region shares common borders with four EAC nations, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and Kenya across Lake Victoria. The region enjoys a favourable weather pattern with average temperature at 26.02 degree Centigrade and annual rainfall ranging between 880-1,100 mm during the months of September to January and March to May.

The agricultural sector plays a crucial role in the rehabilitation process of the country’s economy. Exploration of fertile areas and conducting research on what types of crops can be produced in such areas for optimum production is the only way of achieving self-sufficiency in food and earning substantial foreign exchange.

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