Tanzanian president inaugurates new science building

The President of the United Republic of Tanzania, His Excellency, Dr Mrisho Jakaya Kikwete, in May, inaugurated IITA’s new science building in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

The construction of the science building represents an investment of over US$4 million and is part of IITA’s efforts to strengthen its research capacity and that of its partners in sub-Saharan Africa.

“The science building is a symbol of IITA’s commitment to continue waging the fight against hunger and poverty and boost agriculture through capacity development and improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers in East Africa through its research-for-development efforts,” says Dr Nteranya Sanginga, IITA Director General.

Citing IITA for its R4D work in http://pangeagiving.org/cheap/ sub-Saharan Africa, President Kikwete lauded the construction of the science building, saying that any effective socioeconomic transformation which would have levitra online cheap a significant impact on poverty reduction in Tanzania and Africa should be anchored on agriculture.

The inauguration was followed by a tour of the new building and exhibition booths showcasing IITA’s work in East Africa, and a workshop with the theme “Grow Africa and the role of agricultural research by national systems, IITA, and its partners.”

The state-of-the-art and environmentally friendly Science Building has five modern laboratories with a capacity to host 70 researchers.

Tanzania and partners tackle cassava disease

Tanzania’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives (MAFC) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have launched three new projects to support efforts to develop cassava varieties with resistance to Cassava Mosaic Disease (CMD) and Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD) and to establish more sustainable seed systems to provide smallholder farmers better access to such varieties.

The projects were launched during a cassava value chain event in Dar es Salaam that brought together representatives from the government, donor community, private sector and development partners.

Farmers in Tanzania and the region need access to planting materials of new improved varieties released in the country. Cassava is a very important crop not only for food security but it also has great potential as a cash crop through processing. The two diseases, especially CBSD, are a major problem and need to be urgently addressed.

The Cassava Varieties and Clean Seed to Combat CBSD and CMD (5CP) project will facilitate sharing of five of the best varieties from Tanzania, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, and Uganda for regional testing across the countries to speed up the development of varieties with dual resistance to the two diseases.

Farmers keen on GM crops

The debate rages about the role of genetically modified (GM) crops in ensuring food security in sub-Saharan Africa, yet the level of awareness and basic understanding of GM crops remains low among small-scale farmers in Tanzania, a study reveals.

Researcher in cassava field
Researcher in cassava field

The study, conducted recently by IITA with the Africa College of the University of Leeds, assessed the understanding and attitudes of local farmers towards GM crops, using disease-resistant cassava as an example. It was carried out in three districts in Tanzania where cassava is an important staple crop with the Mikocheni Agricultural Research Institute and the Tanzanian Commission for Science and Technology.

The study team had to overcome difficulties of explaining GM crops in Swahili to Tanzanian farmers. They reported that the majority of the farmers interviewed said that they had never heard of GM crops. The farmers asked if these new crops were similar to hybrids and whether or not they would look and taste like current crops, or grow differently from them.

The study also found that the level of awareness was equally low among the district agricultural extension officers and relevant local district employees. Farmers look up to these officials for information and guidance.

However, the majority of the farmers were keen to increase their knowledge. They were also more interested in the potential of these crops to increase their productivity than concerned about any potential middle- to long-term risks associated with GM crop use.

Dr Caroline Herron, former IITA virologist involved in the research, said that it was clear from the study that there is a need to increase the knowledge of farmers on the pros and cons of GM crops to enable them to participate fully in the debate.

“It is important for the scientific community to raise the awareness levels of farmers by providing accurate and objective information so that they can make informed and autonomous decisions on the potential of GM crops in their agricultural practice,” she said. “The tendency of farmers to focus on short-term gains in productivity should not prevent the potential middle- and long-term risks being fully explained to them to allow them to make a clear judgment.”

Cassava plant. Photo by IITA
Cassava plant. Photo by IITA
According to the study, one barrier to raising awareness about GM crops in the country is the lack of a specialized vocabulary in Swahili for GM. The study recommends that appropriate Swahili terminology to facilitate better understanding should be developed before any campaign is launched to create awareness about GM crops.

The study further recommends that any potential trial for GM crops should be conducted in close consultation with government bodies, backed by a biosafety framework that aims at preventing any potential harm resulting from their use.

Tanzania has made good progress in developing such a framework. The country is a signatory to the Cartagena protocol that outlines the minimum standards of biosafety regulations that must be adopted by all the signatories. More significantly, the country’s biosafety framework was recently approved by the Cabinet after a lengthy consultation process.

Tanzanian scientists and IITA are working on developing GM cassava varieties that are resistant to both cassava mosaic disease and cassava brown streak disease. If they are successful, these crops could, in the future, be used to enhance the resistance of existing local varieties to increase the country’s food security.

When the issue of safety was raised, many of the participants placed their confidence on the government’s rules and regulations, which, they felt, would have been followed prior to the development of any GM crop.

The survey also identified concerns that farmers wanted addressed before participating in any GM crop trial. Farmers need unbiased information about the crops, preferably from scientists who developed them. The involvement of scientists in all stages of the trials—from ground preparation to planting to harvesting—was also very important.

Cassava pile
Cassava pile

The farmers also had confidence that the government would put in place strict rules and regulations that would be followed by both government entities and scientists in the development and trial of these crops. Some of the respondents stated that they would be seriously concerned if there were no such regulations in place and that this would prevent them from taking part in any trial.

During the trials, the farmers said that they would look not only at the crop yields but also their growth pattern, resistance to pests and diseases, and the labor required to care for the new varieties during the growing season. The taste of the new variety was also considered important by farmers who sold their surplus crop.

When asked whether they would eat the GM crops, they said that the involvement of scientists and the government in GM crop development would greatly increase their confidence to do so. According to one respondent in Bagamoyo: “…because of the way these crops are made, I would be worried about eating them unless scientists were involved in the trials and they ate the crops with me. This would show me that they believed they were safe.”

Editor’s note: The work on GM crops in Tanzania is at a very early stage and no GM cassava has been developed yet. So far, all the disease-resistant cassava varieties under trial have been developed through conventional breeding.