HOPE Transforms Farmer Livelihoods by Improving Access to Sorghum Seeds in Tanzania
Farmers like Daudi Kingu of Iramba District in Tanzania have recently seen big changes on their farms since the HOPE project enabled easier access to high yielding sorghum seeds. “Before the HOPE project introduced the improved varieties we used to grow a local sorghum variety called Kakela which took too long to mature, had low productivity and hence low income for the family”, Daudi says. “The improved sorghum varieties are early maturing and less vulnerable to drought and pest attacks. We are now harvesting up to 15 bags per acre which is a lot more than the 5 bags we used to harvest with the local varieties”, adds the 45 year old father of two.
Farmers in Tanzania can now access seeds of improved sorghum varieties more easily and cheaply than before, thanks to combined efforts of ICRISAT, the Department of Research and Development in Tanzania (DRD) and the Tanzania Seed Trade Association (TASTA). The three institutions joined hands under the umbrella of HOPE Project to develop and implement strategies for enabling farmers to have easy access to improved sorghum seed. “We realized that there was a need to promote sorghum farming especially in areas where maize production has dropped due to low rainfall” reports Elias Letayo, the lead sorghum scientist with the DRD, involved in HOPE Project.
To achieve this, the three HOPE project partners took an initiative to lobby for the government of Tanzania to include sorghum certified seed into the government seed subsidy program. The aim was to have the government buy the sorghum seed from seed companies and sell it to farmers at a subsidized price.
TASTA (which is an association of seed companies in Tanzania) worked hard to ensure that sorghum was given priority in the government’s new Seed Subsidy program. “As a private entity, TASTA spearheaded the discussions with the government on the inclusion of sorghum in the subsidy scheme”, says Mary Mgonja, a principle scientist with ICRISAT. “The association participates in many high level agricultural and seed fora in the country and because of that status it played a key role in advocating for sorghum seed subsidy”, she adds.
As TASTA lobbied for government subsidy on sorghum seeds, ICRISAT and DRD scientists worked hard to introduce improved sorghum varieties and provide the technical support in improving the overall seed accessibility to farmers.
These efforts eventually paid off. “In August 2012, the Ministry of Agriculture, Tanzania, announced that 402 tons of various varieties of sorghum had been included in the seed subsidy program fully funded by the national government. It has also been confirmed that the government of Tanzania has agreed to provide fertilizer subsidy for sorghum for the first time”, reports Bob Shuma, the Executive Director of TASTA. “In November 2012, to confirm its commitment to support sorghum activities in the country, the government entered into Agreement with two suppliers Suba Agro Trading & Engineering Co. Ltd (SATEC) and Agricultural Seed Agency (ASA) to ensure the seed reach 20 out of 24 Regions of the mainland Tanzania. We are delighted that the government has seen and accepted the importance of promoting sorghum for food security, nutrition and economic benefits to all”.
Elias Letayo of DRD is delighted with these recent developments. “The subsidized seeds were distributed to input suppliers and farmers bought the seeds at low prices after getting vouchers from Districts Agricultural Offices. The government pays the difference to the input suppliers. The subsidy program has allowed many farmers to access sorghum seeds now. It is encouraging to see sorghum being grown in new areas like Kilimanjaro and Arusha,” he explained.
Sorghum is particularly suited
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to dry areas as it is hardy, resilient and adapted to harsh environments, while other cereal crops such as maize yield poorly in such climates. Farmers in Tanzania report that the improved sorghum varieties grow quickly, demand less labor and are more resistant to pests and diseases.
Bob Shuma from TASTA is also very satisfied with the results so far. “We have achieved a big step forward. We foresee an increase in adoption of sorghum in Tanzania following the strong support by the government. This is essential in our efforts to improve the food security of smallholder farmers in an increasingly unpredictable climate,” he concludes.
Daudi Kingu says he is a much happier farmer now. “I am no longer a beggar for food from neighbors and relatives”. His increased income from farming improved sorghum varieties has enabled him to pay school fees for his children. He has also bought more livestock, a wheel cart and is sure of enough food for his family.
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By Christine Wangari and Alina Paul-Bossuet