Why did Tanzanian farmers demand growing GM crops?

By Michael J. Ssali

An online weekly newsletter, Crop Biotech Update, reported on June 6, 2017, that farmers in Mwanza Province, North Eastern Tanzania urged their government to hasten delivery of GM crops which they said would save them from crop failure.

The maize, cassava, and cotton farmers whose crop has been severely affected by stalk borer pests, cassava mosaic, disease and African cotton bollworm, respectively said they had applied chemical and cultural methods against the pests with no success over the years. They disclosed the problem to Tanzanian government officials, journalists, and scientists who visited their farms during a media training organised by Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa (OFAB-Tanzania) on May 29-331, 2017.

Cassava researcher Dr Simon Jeremiah (left) talking to a cassava farmer in Chato district in Tanzania.

One of the farmers, Chongo Ngundamira, pointed out that the high cost of inputs to control pests and diseases have decreased production capacity. “We have heard that scientists are working on biotech maize, cassava and cotton that will need less spraying as the crops are self-protected against pests and diseases,” he said.

This problem is not limited to Tanzanian farmers as we also have almost similar issues in Uganda where, for example, Irish potato farmers lose up to 60 per cent of the crop due to late blight disease and have to spend a lot of money buying fungicides to protect the crop. Yet through biotech research our scientists under NARO (National Agricultural Research Organisation) have come up with GM potatoes that have shown extreme resistance to late blight and don’t need fungicide spraying. The scientists have also come up with GM bananas that have shown resistance to the banana bacterial wilt disease which has wiped out nearly half of the crop in the country.

The researchers have also prepared GM cassava that is resistant to cassava brown streak disease which has greatly reduced the food crop. They have come up with drought tolerant and stem borer resistant maize. However, farmers cannot grow the crops because our government has delayed to pass the Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill which is required before these improved crop varieties resulting from biotechnology can be passed on for growing.

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TEGO is our financial shield, says Robert Matete from Western Kenya

By Evelyn Situma

Robert Matete — a farmer from Kakamega county, Kenya — glances at his maize field, and as if submerged in deep thought, straightens up his face and makes a wish amidst our conversation.

“I wish my children can grow up to be as productive as TEGO® maize. We sowed only one seed per hole but look, we now have hundreds of plants each with many kernels compared.”

Like the rest of the farmers in Kakamega – Kenya, Robert was a sugarcane farmer for 20 years. But after several years of making losses he quit in favour of maize farming in 2010.

“When we realised sugarcane was not working, we decided to get a new crop variety with high yields and good returns,” he explained.

Robert Matete a TEGO maize farmer from Butere, Kakamega County, July 2016. PHOTO/AATF

A local non-profit organization called Rural Outreach Programme (ROP) advised the 62-year old father of nine to plant maize and soya.

However, after two years of growing maize, the yields were still low. Their luck changed when he agreed to host TEGO® demos over the 2014 long rain season. That season, his harvest rose to 1.08 tons from 180 kilogrammes from 0.13 ha land. The following year his yield once again grew to 1.98 tons after he increased his farm size to 0.4 ha.

“I sold 19 bags at Ksh 3, 200 (USD320) per bag and used the earnings to settle school fees arrears for three of my children in high school – Mukumu Boys, Lunza High School and Bukolwe High School,” said Robert.

Robert is happy and has made up his mind to only grow TEGO®. “TEGO maize seed is the best. It’s like a shield that is able to solve my financial problems,” he concludes.

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Farmers bemoan losses caused by Fall Armyworm in Busia, Kenya

By Nancy Juma

What do you say to a farmer whose crop is being gobbled up by the Fall Armyworm as he literally watches? Charles Weko, a small scale farmer from Busia county depends on farming to pay for his children’s school fees and service his loan.

Fall Armyworm infested maize leaf

“I don’t know what to do, I am so afraid, these worms have devastated my farm and I don’t expect to harvest anything this year,’ laments Charles Weko.

The army worm infestation has affected more than 2,000 acres within the Busia sub county hitting hardest the poor subsistence farmers who fully depend on their farms. Charles is wondering if this problem hit him for choosing to go against his normal practice. Usually, he says, he would plant only an acre of his four acre farm but because he had access to a loan, he decided to plant the whole farm with maize.  But as fate would have it, he finds himself at the mercy of the vicious worm — and still stuck with a loan.

The fall armyworm is a destructive caterpillar that is indigenous to the Americas, the ‘fall’ referring to the season during which it tends to migrate to the United States.  Its presence in the African continent was first reported in West Africa particularly Nigeria around January 2016. The pest is known to cause extensive crop losses of up to 90% percent depending on existing conditions.

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Nigerian farmer mentors youth on cassava farming

By Grace Muinga

Pastor Felix Afolabi, owner and founder of Afolabi Agro Divine Ventures (AADV), has been a farmer since 2014 — farming on 360 hectares of land — 300 of which he intends to set aside for growing cassava.

Pastor Afolabi showing off his new John Deere tractor

This season, AADV has targeted cassava planting on 90 hectares of land, and 75 hectares has been planted while another 15 hectares will be planted by end of June 2017.

AADV in collaboration with Africa Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) through its Cassava Mechanisation and Agro-processing Project (CAMAP) also plans to set up a cassava processing plant to provide a market for cassava farmers in Imeko, Ogun State and its environs.

Motivated by the desire to give back to the community, pastor Afolabi uses his own experience to mentor the youth. AADV has engaged youth in cassava mechanisation providing them with stems for free at inception while they provide the required labour on the field. Pastor Felix, as he is popularly known, is now actively supporting the community working closely with youth groups. “Through the intervention of AATF, the rigours involved in cassava field establishment has been greatly reduced,” said pastor Afolabi.  Continue reading

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Efforts towards saving maize farmers $300million yield loss caused by MLN Disease

By Evelyn Situma

Five years ago when the first case of Maize Lethal Necrosis Disease (MLND) in Africa was reported in the lower parts of Longisa, Bomet County,  seed companies and seed out-growers in Kenya were a worried lot.

They watched in disbelief as the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS) enforced the destruction of their infected maize fields.

Dr. Sylvester Oikeh, a scientist at African Agricultural Technology Foundation at MLN evaluation trial site in Babati, Tanzania in 2016. The crop on the right is the MLN tolerant maize variety developed by Water Efficient Maize for Africa Project. PHOTO/CIMMYT

Dr. Sylvester Oikeh, a scientist at African Agricultural Technology Foundation at MLN evaluation trial site in Babati, Tanzania in 2016. The crop on the right is the MLN tolerant maize variety developed by Water Efficient Maize for Africa Project. PHOTO/CIMMYT

According to Erick Tegei, the Quality Assurance Manager at Kenya Seed Company, KEPHIS rejected 92 acres (equivalent of 37 hectare) from being processed further as seed.

Samuel Angwenyi, Coordinator for the MLN Management Project at the Africa Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) also confirms that “seed companies were severely affected by MLN between 2012 and 2016. For instance, in 2012, over 26,000 hectare of land was affected resulting to the loss of 1.4 million bags of maize (126,000mt) valued at $52 million and 78,000 hectare in 2014.”

According to the 2014 survey on MLND by Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization about 78,000 hectare of maize crop was affected by MLN leading to loss of over 11 million bags equivalent of $330 million.

In the quest to curb the spread of this menace, AATF is supporting the commercial seed sector in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Ethiopia in production of clean maize seed that is not infected with maize chlorotic mottle virus (MCMV). This work is being carried out in collaboration with Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) through the USAID-MLN Diagnostics and Management Project. The Project is also promoting use of certified seeds by farmers in these countries.

To achieve this goal, these institutions have developed a modus operandi on control of MLND through numerous consultative meetings with seed sector stakeholders in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Ethiopia.

The Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) are condensed in a checklist for use by farmers, seed companies, breeders from National Agricultural Research Systems and seed out-growers to ensure MLN control and management in the farms.

The14-step SOP checklists include general field sanitation, regular scouting of MLND symptoms and destruction of symptomatic crops, monitoring and control of insect vectors and sampling of suspect plants for diagnostic testing. Farmers are also advised to properly dry seeds to a moisture content of 12–13 per cent before storage, shipping and/or planting among others.

These management practices are expected to save farmers from the anguish and yield loses caused by the disease.

AATF and its implementing partners are committed to ensure that farmers, breeders and seed companies put the management procedures into practice through constant monitoring and awareness creation activities.

“MLN is a communal challenge that should be tackled at several fronts. There is no silver bullet to tackling MLN, thus synergistic effort from all seed industry players is required,” concluded Angwenyi.

MLND is a maize viral disease caused by the co-infection of Maize Chlorotic Mottle Virus (MCMV) and any of the Potyviruses infecting cereals, especially Sugarcane Mosaic Virus (SCMV). It causes yield loses of up to 100 per cent and is a threat to food security in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and all the other endemic countries.

The disease was reported in Kenya in September 2011, and later in Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, The Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and Ethiopia by 2014. It is a major limitation in maize production in the Eastern and Central Africa.

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Fifteen new varieties of rice are set to be released to farmers to boost the production of the local crop.

By Anita Chepkoech

Fifteen new varieties of rice are set to be released to farmers to boost the production of the local crop which is performing dismally at the moment.

One of the hybrids can do well under irrigation, while the other can survive under rain-fed farming, just like maize, thus saving farmers the hefty cost of pumping water for irrigation.

“The new varieties will improve yields of rice and make it as competitive as imported rice in terms of quality, price and affordability,” said Dr Kayode Sanni, the rice manager for The African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) which is overseeing the five-year project that was launched in 2012.

Farmers harvesting rice

The yields range from seven to 10 tonnes per hectare, provided that the farmer adheres to good farming practices, including creating good soil conditions for the seedlings.

“From our analysis, farmers stand to gain an average of Sh35, 000 to Sh100, 000 more than with the old variety,” he said.

According to Electine Wafula, a plant breeder at Hybrids East Africa Limited, who worked on the crop, the new rice varieties will mature early, will adapt to various environments and require less water, thus improving farmers’ incomes.

With the exception of Pishori, a local aromatic rice, most locally-grown rice takes longer to mature, than hybrids which mature within three months. However, the problem with Pishori is that it has a lower yield and is also prone to diseases, especially blast. Continue reading

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Stem borer pest attacks to reduce with new technology

Jul. 19, 2016

By AGATHA NGOTHO , @agathangotho

Farmers in Kitale will benefit from a technology that will reduce the attack on maize from the stem borer pest.

Kitale is part of the bread basket area in Kenya but the stem borer has been a big problem resulting to about 25 per cent losses of the crop in Trans Nzoia

county according to Kenneth Kagai, the county’s agriculture deputy director.

“Much of the maize consumed in the country comes from this region hence the need to seek for a solution to address the pest problem.

Any technology that can address this issue will go a long way in ensuring that farmers get enough produce for themselves and the country,” he said.

Kagai added that the effects from the pest are normally low for those farmers that plant early, which is by the second week of March.

Dr Murenga Mwimali a scientist from Kalro explains about the experiment of developing a variety that is resistant to the stem borer at the confined field trial site in Kitale.

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AATF, Ultravetis Bring Climate-Smart Maize Hybrids to Farmers in E.A

WEMA’s goal is to deliver climate smart technologies to farmers in Africa.

By AATF

The Water Efficient for Africa (WEMA) breeding programme has built its reputation over the last decade as a credible maize improvement project in Sub-Saharan Africa. Apart from developing a robust product pipeline of 75 maize hybrids, it has also offered seed companies and farmers a wide selection of products.

Furthermore, the project prides in working together with seed companies to help solve day to day challenges by farmers. Drought and food security are the core concerns of the project.  It is with the vision of like-minded private companies like Ultravetis that WEMA is meeting its project goal of improving yields on drought-prone farmlands.

The long-term goal is to deploy these new varieties and make them available to smallholder farmers royalty-free through local African seed companies.

Inaugural discussion between Dr. Gospel Omanya, Senior Manager at AATF and Ultravetis Director, Mr. Wachira Muriithi, yielded a fruitful partnership that brought Ultravetis into maize seed business. Ultravetis was first licensed to sell its first WEMA hybrid (WE1101) in October 2013 rainy season. Within the last 4 years, Ultravetis have four more licensed WEMA maize hybrids, namely, WE2109, WE2107, WE2111 and WE3106. Ultravetis is a good example of companies that have been bold to tap in to opportunities and fly with it.  Through WEMA the company has been able to increase its product range and network coverage.

WEMA's goal is to deliver climate smart technologies to farmers in Africa.

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Why not plant these seeds for a bumper harvest?

Seeds of Gold, Daily Nation

Friday April 29 2016

Your latest kid on the block on matters seeds is Elgon Prestige 02 (WE1101). What are some of its defining features?

This seed is a product of the partnership between the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), Kenya Agricultural Livestock and Research Organisation (KALRO) and WEMA–Water Efficient Maize for Africa, a project. Its biggest selling point is that it is a drought and other stress-tolerant variety. It does well in conditions of reduced rainfall. It is high-yielding because it is a double cropper.

That means every stem has two cobs. We have seen farmers harvest up to between 35 and 40 bags an acre. This is way higher than 10-15 bags which other seeds give from an acre. Having been developed to brave climate change, this variety takes 90 days for green maize to be ready for the market. Those targeting dry maize will have harvest it in four months.

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DroughtTEGO, Boon for Western Kenya farmers

December , 2015

By Evelyn Situma

Jotham’s maize yield has increased from 10 kilograms to 10 bags of 90kg maize from when he started farming DroughtTEGO™ maize hybrid developed by Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project in 2014.
For seven years, he harvested only 10 kilograms of maize from a quarter of an acre piece of land (equivalent to 0.1 t/ha). “At the time I knew nothing about technology. That is why I never got much from my farm. But now my yield has increased because of DroughtTEGO™ maize seed and good agronomy practices,” he said.
WEMA through its project partner, Rural Outreach Programme (ROP), a community based farmer organization in Western Kenya has been conducting field demonstrations (demo) for farmers in the region. It’s through the awareness drives that Jotham was approached to host a field demo at his farm.
“They set up a 10 metre by 10 metre demo plot with several maize varieties on each. TEGO variety- WE1101 out-did the rest,” said Jotham. He harvested 70 kg from the demo plot.

Jotham Apamo puts across a point during an interview in Western Kenya.
His yield has increased from 10kg per quarter acre (equivalent to 0.1 t/ha) to 10 bags of 90kg (4.5t/ha) on half acre farm after adopting DroughtTEGO, a maize brand from the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project. PHOTO/AATF

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