Thursday, January 19, 2012

Tanzanian farmers look to science - and tradition - to resist drought

Felix Mwakyembe in AlertNet: Recent years have not been kind to Veremund Mfuse and his maize crops. As Tanzania struggles with increasingly extreme weather, the farmer, from Mbarali in Tanzania’s Mbeya region, has seen his maize production decline, a problem he says is affecting farmers across the region.

“Our major challenge here is drought. We face a critical shortage of water, rains are not reliable (and) we harvest very little,” Mfuse said. In response to the problem, which experts in the region say is linked to climate change, some farmers are now planting new, drought-resistant maize hybrids, while others are experimenting with a return to traditional varieties.

Arnold Mushongi, a researcher at Uyole Agricultural Research Institute in Mbeya, about 860 km (540 miles) from Dar es Salaam, has developed several new varieties of maize that require little water, can grow in less fertile soil and are pest-resistant.

They can also produce significantly bigger yields: 8 to 10 tonnes per hectare compared with less than 2 tonnes per hectare from commonly used local varieties, particularly in drought conditions, according to Mushongi. The new hybrids mature in 125 to 130 days, up to three weeks less than is required for normal maize varieties.

Mfuse says that is exactly the kind of maize he now needs to be planting. “Maize seeds that take so long to mature are a loss (in current conditions). We need seeds that take a shorter period to mature, (so that) when rains stop the maize is ready for harvest,” he said....

A lone maize plant, shot by ben britten, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

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