Sowing healthy seed

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Tanzanian government launch efforts to aid cassava farmers

Dar es Salaam, TANZANIA

Cassava farmers in Tanzania stand to greatly benefit from three projects just launched by Tanzania’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security, and Cooperatives (MAFC) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF). The new initiatives support efforts to develop disease-resistant cassava varieties and more sustainable seed systems through which improved varieties can be delivered.

Cassava is a vital food security crop and income earner for small-holder farmers in Africa. However, its production is currently being devastated by cassava mosaic disease (CMD) and cassava brown streak disease (CBSD), a severe form of CMD. Both are spreading widely in East and Central Africa. The two diseases cause losses estimated at more than US$1 billion every year.

The event brought together representatives of more than 100 stakeholders from the government, research, donor community, private sector, and development organizations and included an official project launch by the guest of honor, deputy permanent secretary Eng Mbogo Futakamba. Faith Patrick, Tanzania country director for Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA), which hosted the event, provided the opening welcome remarks and an overview of MEDA’s history in Tanzania in the areas of health, agriculture, and finance.

Three new BMGF-funded projects were featured, all of which focused on building a sustainable supply chain for improved and disease-resistant cassava seed to farmers. Stephen Magige, field project manager, presented MEDA’s Commercially Sustainable Quality Assured Cassava Seed System project known locally as Mihogo Mbegu Bingwa – Swahili for cassava seed champion. The project develop and test supply chain models for the distribution of the newly created cassava varieties.

MEDA’s project will work on building the capacity of seed entrepreneurs to produce disease-free cassava planting material to be sold to farmers and to facilitate strong linkages between entrepreneurs and producers of breeder and foundation-level planting material.

“We are working to commercially disseminate the newly released varieties from research stations to farmers by encouraging seed entrepreneurs to engage in production of cassava planting material,” said Lauren Good, senior consultant/project manager at MEDA. “Most farmers are not in the habit of purchasing seed as it is often given away free, but we want to facilitate sustainable linkages between farmers, entrepreneurs, and the formal seed system.”

Hon. engineer Christopher Chiza, minister for Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives, noted that the projects came at an opportune time when farmers needed access to planting materials of new improved varieties released in the country. “These are extremely important projects for Tanzania and the region because cassava is a very important crop not only for food security, but it also has great potential as a cash crop through processing. These two diseases, especially CBSD, are a major problem to our farmers and need to be urgently addressed,” Chiza said in a speech read by deputy permanent secretary Futakamba.

Two other new projects were featured that MEDA will be working closely with throughout the project.

* The New Cassava Varieties and Clean Seed to Combat CBSD and CMD (5CP) project will facilitate sharing five of the best varieties from Tanzania, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, and Uganda for regional testing across the countries. This will provide breeders with a wide source of genetic material to work with for development of varieties with dual resistance to CBSD and CMD. The initiative is led by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA).

* The Community Action in Controlling Cassava Brown Streak Disease through Clean Seed project will implement a community-based approach for managing and controlling CBSD. Led by the Department of Research and Development (DRD) at MAFC, the project will be piloted in two of the major cassava-growing zones of Tanzania – Muleba and Chato Districts in the Lake Zone and Mkuranga and Kisarawe Districts in the Eastern Zone.

All three of the newly launched projects will work with the Tanzania Official Seed Certification Institute (TOSCI) to ensure that only disease-free planting material is disseminated and to develop a financially viable and sustainable approach to certification of planting material. The results from these projects will provide lessons for scaling-out in countries in East, Central and Southern Africa currently grappling with the two diseases, and secure the food and incomes of over 30 million farmers growing cassava.

The afternoon sessions featured four other BMGF projects that are working to improve the cassava value chain and are being implemented by CARE, IITA, Mikocheni Research Institute, and the National Research Institute (NRI UK). The evening concluded with the leadership of all seven projects meeting with foundation representatives to plan how to build collaboration and synergies between the projects.

The event was attended by five members of the Bill and Melinda Gate foundation. Lawrence Kent, senior program officer, presented a comprehensive overview of the foundation’s strategy for the seven cassava projects that it is currently funding in Tanzania. “Cassava is one of our priority crops, as it is mostly grown by resource-poor small-holder farmers and especially women. Therefore finding sustainable solutions to its production challenges provides us all an opportunity to make a difference in their lives and make progress in efforts to overcome hunger and poverty.”

—MEDA release 

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