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FOCUS ON AFRICA
NOVEMBER 2010 FEBRUARY 2011 PARTNERS
in the next 10 years. It is that trend towards food
insecurity that SIMLESA is attempting to avert.
But it is not just on-farm practices that are
targeted for innovation. Urban grain prices have
remained stubbornly high following the global
food crisis of 2007--08. But higher prices for
consumers have not translated into higher prices
for farmers. This has weakened incentives for
farmers to increase food crop production, a state
of affairs that SIMLESA is attempting to change.
CIMMYT's Dr Fred Kanampiu says that the
SIMLESA project is aiming to achieve a 'whole-
chain' impact. "Despite the multiple efforts
underway with the researchers, the final focus
should not be lost," he says. "It is the farmer who
is to be the end beneficiary of the research. The
farmers' lives should be improved, their pockets
well-lined and their families well catered for."
Of all the crops produced by farmers such
as Ms Mateo, it is pigeon pea that has an
important role to play as a cash crop. Farmers
are fond of this legume because it yields two
harvests a year and there is a good export
market to India. Pigeon pea retails up to
TZS150,000 (about US$100) per 100 kilogram
bag. On average, one acre (0.405 hectares) of
land yields 300--400 kg of pigeon pea. Typically,
95% of the crop is sold.
In Karatu district some 15% of farmers live
on less than a dollar a day. Mr Makoko says the
major obstacles to lifting their profitability are
high inputs cost, low produce prices, lack of
markets and prolonged drought. By introducing
pigeon pea or similar crops, and integrating the
'whole-chain' approach, these obstacles can be
reduced or overcome.
While the main research thrust is on
conservation agriculture, CIMMYT and ICRISAT
are participating in accelerated breeding
and performance trials that aim to introduce
farmers to maize and legume varieties that yield
well in good years and are resilient enough in
the bad seasons to help reduce farmers' risks.
Mr Mbando is tracking impacts associated
with the new varieties and says the farmers'
response to the studies has been positive.
"They suggested that breeders take
into account farmers' criteria when making
selections, so a participatory approach will
be used to evaluate varieties," he says. "So
far, farmers have indicated early maturity,
pest and disease tolerance, high yields and
marketability as the preferred traits. Variety
registration and production will then also
be stepped up to make the seed available in
in grain, importing 10% of its needs---one-
quarter in the form of emergency food aid.
Maize is the main staple and legumes---
primarily groundnut, pigeon pea and chickpea---
are an important source of protein. Instead of a
more prosperous future, however, the region is
facing growth in demand for maize and legumes
Mbulu district, located about 50 kilometres
from Karatu, is the next community targeted
for SIMLESA activities in Tanzania, to start after
the current crop has been harvested. At the
SIMLESA inception meeting, farmers agreed
to leave postharvest residue on the ground in
preparation for the trials. Field activities in the
Eastern Zone districts of Gairo and Mvomero are
expected to begin in the next growing season.
Ms Tuaeli Mmbaga, the senior agronomist
on this project, says that with support from
extension officers, farmers will assess the
technology both preharvest and postharvest.
"The way forward will include training
farmers to provide them with further education
on how to manage their land," she says. "This
will include an Innovation Learning Platform
in partnership with farm produce stockists,
community leaders and other stakeholders to
ensure that more people become involved with
Crop modelling scientist Dr Daniel
Rodriguez, who leads the Queensland
component of ACIAR's SIMLESA program,
is convinced that research to reduce food
shortages in eastern and southern Africa could
have many benefits for farmers, including in his
"Our scientists will be working to improve
the resilience and profitability of African farms,
providing access to better seeds and fertilisers
to raise the productivity of local maize--legume
farming systems," Dr Rodriguez says. "Together
we may be able to help solve one of the
greatest challenges for the developed world---
eliminating hunger and poverty in Africa---
while at the same time boosting legume
production here in Australia."
BUILDING AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH CAPACITY
ACIAR's Dr John Dixon says the emphasis of
Australia's direct involvement is on building
capacity within the African agricultural research
"Conservation agriculture amounts to
a substantial shift in farming practices for
the region," Dr Dixon says. "But it stands to
provide so many advantages---not just greater
water-use efficiency and soil health but also
opportunities to break disease cycles and
improve livestock nutrition."
These are long-term efforts that need to
be adapted to many agroclimatically diverse
locations, Dr Dixon says. "So it is vital that the
African agricultural research system is built
up so that it can take lead responsibility for
implementing innovation into the future." n
Senior agronomist Tuaeli Mmbaga, Tanzania.
Socioeconomist Frank Mbando, Tanzania.
"The way forward will include
training farmers to provide them
with further education on how
to manage their land."
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