Mr. Petro Kagusi, a cassava farmer from Kidete village, Mzenga ward, Kisarawe region, Eastern Tanzania is extremely happy with the new improved farming practices he has learned through the African Cassava Agronomy Initiative (ACAI) project. These include proper spacing, use of improved varieties and fertilizers.
“I used to grow my cassava following the traditional way – planting randomly, not maximizing space or using any fertilizers. The results were very poor yield, not good at all,” he said while speaking to a group of journalists visiting the project’s trial on farmers’ fields in Kisarawe district, Eastern Tanzania.
“After joining the project and learning of better ways to grow cassava including planting in rows, closer spacing and applying NPK fertilizer, I have been getting very good harvests. As farmers, we should adopt these technologies, so we can increase the crop’s production and attract investors to process cassava,” he said as he showed the media the bricks he had bought to build a new better home for his family.
Another farmer, Maria Mtanga explained that the agronomic practices they had learned under the ACAI project made operations such as weed management and harvesting easier.
Maria has been interacting with other farmers sharing the good agronomic practices learnt from the project. She said many of the farmers were willing to adopt the technology, particularly the use of fertilizer.
“Now we need to make sure the technology (fertilizer) is accessible and available to meet the demand,” she said.
Growing new varieties not good enough
The Director General of Tanzania Agriculture Research Institute (TARI) – one of the project’s important collaborators in the country, Dr Geoffrey Makamilo was also part of the trip.
While briefing the media, Dr Mkamilo explained that cassava is an important crop, for the district due to its proximity to Dar es Salaam. However, the cultivation of the crop in the district, like elsewhere in Tanzania, is greatly threatened by pests and diseases and use of poor farming methods.
“Several new improved high-yielding disease resistant cassava varieties have been released by researchers including Korana 1, Kiroba, Cheleko, Kipusa, Kizimbani and Mkumba. However, farmers should understand that growing improved seed varieties should go hand in hand with the use of good agronomic practices including the use of appropriate fertilizer regimes to tap into the yield potential”, he said.
“For example, if a farmer grows improved cassava varieties without applying fertilizers, they can harvest up to 10 tons of cassava per hectare, an increase from 6 t/ha from the local varieties. However, by using NPK fertilizer, the farmers can increase production up to 60 tons of cassava per hectare,” he said,
Decision Support Tools
David Ngome, ACAI project Communications Officer, added that ACAI had developed a set of decision support tools to guide agriculture extension officers on the use of good agronomic practices to boost cassava production.
These included site-specific fertilizer recommendation tool and Fertilizer blending recommendation tool to maximize returns, scheduled planting recommendation tool to ensure a sustainable year-round supply of cassava to the processing industry and the high starch recommendation tool to ensure optimum starch content in the cassava roots for processing, appropriate use of fertilizers, spacing and hedging
“Our fertilizer decision support tool can give very site-specific advice using satellite to locate the farmers’ location and the farmer inputting details such as planting time and variety. It is able to recommend the amount and type of fertilizer to use and the anticipated increase in yield and income,” he said.
The project had distributed over 400 tablets – mobile communication devices – to the extension officers so they can be able to access and use these decision support tools, he added.
The tour engaged journalists from both the newspaper and broadcast including the national Tanzania Broadcasting Corporation (TBC) and international German broadcaster Deutchewelle.
ACAI has been working closely with farmers and partners to develop and deploy agronomy recommendation tools to intensify cassava farming and increase root and starch yields in Nigeria and Tanzania but will expand to Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana and Uganda.