Revitalizing maize production in Tanzania through Striga weed suppression

If all arable land in Tanzania could be put under maize, the most preferred cereal staple, it would feed the entire East African region. The most astonishing fact is that over 600,000 hectares have been rendered useless by Striga weed, commonly referred to in Kiswahili as kiduha in the region.

Striga weed is known to cause maize yield losses of up to 100 percent, subjecting most of the farmers to a vicious poverty circle. The severe infestation has left some farmers so desperate to the extent believing that their land has been bewitched.

Efforts to control Striga using traditional methods such as weeding and use of manure have yielded dismal results.

Tanseed International Limited, a private seed company in Tanzania, is working with International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) and BASF to develop new maize varieties using the STRIGAWAY technology which kills Striga. The technology is based on a herbicide known as Imazapyr whereby Imazapyr resisistant maize is coated with the herbicide. When Striga tries to attach on the maize to suck nutrients, it is killed by the herbicide. By use of this technology, farmers will be able to increase their yields to between 18 and 28 bags. The technology has been commercialized in Kenya and it is under testing in Uganda. In Tanzania it is awaiting registration of the herbicide before it can be commercialized.

In 2011/12, Tanseed International availed some seeds to a few farmers for demonstration purposes and the results were very encouraging despite the prevailing drought.

Mr. Paul Matei learnt about the IR maize technology popularly known as ‘komesha kiduha’ in Kiswahili during the 2011 Nane Nane show in Morogoro. He was given a 2-kg pack of Tan 222 seed which he planted on 0.25 acres from where he harvested 2 bags despite the severe drought which affected the maize crop in 2012. Paul cannot wait to see the technology go through all the regulatory requirements so as to enable him fully adopt the technology. He looks forward to having enough food for his five-member family as well as surplus for sale.

Paul who hails from Morogoro Vijijini District remembers to have seen Striga on his farm first over 20 years ago. He plants maize on 1 acre out of his total land holding of 5 acres. Over the past few years, he has witnessed his yields decline incessantly from over 12 bags to less than 6 bags in 2012, thanks to the witchweed. This is despite putting a lot of efforts in controlling the weed using the traditional methods like use of compost manure, rotation and intercropping with cowpeas, weeding and uprooting. Even though there are other challenges such as drought, lack of fertiliser and diseases afflicting maize production, Striga is the most significant problem.

Addressing participants to a field day organised by Tanseed International in conjunction with AATF, CIMMYT and BASF in Mkuzi village of Muheza district in Tanga Region, Mama Meboste Mwaibo narrated how she was given five maize seed varieties by Tanseed International to set up a demo on her farm. She told the over 200 participants that despite having planted Tan 222 previously, the plot unlike the others did not suffer massive Striga attack and the cobs were bigger compared to the other varieties. To sum it all she urged the farmers who did not believe her story to take a step and try Tan 222 and they will see by themselves.

Mama Teresia Michael invited all the field day participants to walk straight to her farm and see for themselves how Strigahad invaded her farm as well and compare the performance of Tan 222 with that of other varieties. She was a beneficiary of the demonstration seed supplied to a few farmers by Tanseed International.

It was clearly evident from her farm that Tan 222 produced better than the other varieties and Striga weed count was lower than for the other varieties.

While addressing the field day participants, the Tanzania Director of National Food Security under the Ministry of Food Security and Cooperatives, Mr. Karimu B. Mtambo who was the guest of honor advised the farmers to adopt the new technology adding that by so doing, the country will be assured of food security and prosperity. He reiterated that such field days should be made more regular to enable more farmers to learn about new technologies and also act as a forum for evaluating the performance of various agricultural technologies.

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