Improving agriculture, changing lives: IITA’s 20 years of agriculture research in Tanzania

In 2014, IITA marked its 20th anniversary in Tanzania. This video highlights some of the activities researchers have been involved in and the successes achieved so far from some of the beneficiaries. These include research on tackling the major pests and diseases of important food crops in the country, adding value through processing and better postharvest handling and building the capacity of researchers in the country and region.

Video highlights

Tackling poverty and hunger in Tanzania through working with small-holder farmers: IITA has been working with small-holder farmers in Tanzania who are not only a majority of the population but are also a majority of the poor living in rural areas. Therefore, according to Dr Victor Manyong, IITA director for eastern Africa, improving their income and livelihoods can have a significant impact in efforts to reduce hunger and poverty and develop the country.

Wilting bananas: Banana is an important crop not only in Tanzania but also in the whole of the Great Lakes region where it’s grown by over 70 million people. However, their livelihoods and food security are currently threatened by a deadly bacterial disease, the Banana Xanthomonus Wilt (BXW) which is spreading through the region.  Former IITA Plant pathologist Dr Fen Beed explains ongoing efforts on tackling and controlling this disease.

Double scourge for cassava farmers:  Cassava, another important crop for small-holder farmers in Tanzania is currently under attack from two viral diseases: Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD) and Cassava Mosaic Disease (CMD). IITA’s plant virologist Dr James Legg has been hot on the trail of the vector transmitting the diseases, trying to understand them, how they spread the diseases, and how to control them.

Improving farmers’ varieties: One way to increase the production of smallholder farmers is by giving them improved high-yielding varieties. Working together with their counterparts at the Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives, IITA researchers have worked hard to develop improved varieties of important crops to smallholder farmers. This is one area in which IITA has had considerable success in the country notes Dr Fidelis Myaka, the Director for Research and Development.

The farmers are also involved in the improvement of their varieties through a process known as Participatory Variety Selection (PVS) to ensure the new crops are not only high yielding but that they also meet their preferences  in terms of taste, texture, mealiness and other traits as explained by Dr Edward Kanju, IITA’s cassava breeder.

The improved high-yielding varieties developed by IITA and their partners are motivating farmers to grow cassava as attested by James Mele, a farmer in the coast region of Tanzania who had nearly abandoned growing cassava altogether due  to diseases.

Reducing unsafe use of pesticides by vegetable farmers: Vegetables are high-value crops in urban areas. They are therefore attractive to surrounding farmers who often cultivate them intensively using a lot of pesticides and many times incorrectly. This poses a health risk to themselves and their consumers as well as to the environment. IITA’s Dr Danny Coyne, a soil health specialist, is working with vegetable farmers to show them safe and more sustainable ways to control pests and diseases in vegetables.

Adding value to farmers’ produce:   Supporting farmers to increase production is not enough to tackle food insecurity and poverty if it’s not accompanied by efforts to protect yields and ensure farmers have access to markets. IITA’s value chain specialist, Dr Adebayo Abass has been working with farmers to process their produce into high value products with longer shelf lives and which fetch more money in the market.

Capacity building:  IITA has also put in a lot of effort to train researchers – its own staff and those from partner institutions. These include conducting short courses, supporting Msc and PHD studies and through internship. Dr Fidelis Myaka, Director for Research and Development sees this as another important contribution by IITA to the country’s effort to develop its agriculture sector.

New science facility: To ensure IITA is well equipped to deal with current and emerging agricultural issues in Tanzania and the whole of Eastern Africa, the Institute has constructed a state-of-the art science facility with five well-equipped laboratories. The facility was inaugurated by the president of Tanzania, His Excellency, Dr Jakaka Mrisho Kikwete in May 2013.

DG visits IITA Ltd London

It was a memorable occasion in the history of IITA Ltd, formerly known as Lambourne Ltd, when DG Nteranya Sanginga visited the offices in Croydon on 9 January accompanied by Mrs Charlotte Sanginga. They met John Last, Head, Supply Chain; Betty Walsh, Office Manager; and Laura Cartwright and Aussop Hailbeth, Buyers/Expeditors. Although IITA Ltd was formally incorporated in May 2008 when Lambourne was purchased by IITA, the team of Betty Walsh, Laura Cartwright, and previously Julie Ratcliffe, had been collectively supporting IITA across Africa for more than 40 years.

DG meets the Team IITA Croydon
L-R: Dr Nteranya Sanginga (third), John Last (first) and Charlotte Sanginga (second) with their hosts Betty Walsh, Laura Cartwight and Aussop Hailbeth in the London office.

For Dr Sanginga this was his first-ever visit to the London offices. However, for Mrs Sanginga “this was a visit down memory lane”. She had visited Carolyn House where Lambourne/IITA Ltd is located a number of times over the last 30 plus years.

Dr Sanginga spoke about his acknowledgement and appreciation of the work the office has done in support of IITA‟s operations across Africa and for other CGIAR centers. He was surprised at the many different aspects of soft and hard service support the team provides on a day-to-day basis in the areas of HR (arranging visas and travel), Finance (payment of overseas POs, management of multi-currency bank accounts, arranging VAT refunds, etc.) and, of course, procurement and shipping support services as part of IITA‟s supply chain operations.

Dr Sanginga said he had not fully appreciated the complexity and diversity of all the things the London office were actively involved in while supporting the mission of IITA. He reiterated the vision for IITA Ltd taking on a greater level of operational responsibilities as centralized procurement and logistic operations move away from IITA Ibadan and are devolved to the regional hubs. In future, these will be dealing directly with the IITA London office for their overseas procurement and logistic requirements instead of channeling them through the Supply Chain office in Ibadan as they do now.

Both Dr and Mrs Sanginga thanked the team for and on behalf of all IITA staff and their families across Africa. The DG said that he wished to present the IITA Ltd team to staff at the November 2015 R4D Week. He said that, for many staff, IITA Ltd was perceived to be a back office without them really knowing the importance of the work it carries out. He said he wished to change this perception.

The visit was concluded with a team lunch at a local restaurant where Dr Sanginga experienced a classic English meal of fish and chips with “mushy peas”.