While cassava is among the most important crops in the isle of Zanzibar, Tanzania, where it is ranked second to rice, the residents consume it in very limited and not so exciting ways. It is boiled or fried with oil and eaten as a snack /breakfast or stewed in coconut milk for lunch or dinner. This in turn limits the demand and market for the crop.
Recently, the project in collaboration with one of its partner in the isle, Zanzibar Agricultural Research Institute (ZARI), held training for farmers, processors and traders on preparing additional food recipes using cassava. These included making cakes, bans, spicy porridge and chin chin – a snack made of fried stringy cassava (sort of like fried cassava spaghetti). These were made from high quality cassava flour (HQCF) – on its own or mixed with wheat flour. They also made chicken cassava pilau in which peeled cassava that’s cut into little pieces substituted rice in this popular dish.
The SARD-SC project seeks to increase food security and improve the income and living standards of small-holder farmers in 20 African countries, including Tanzania, by increasing the production of four important staple crops – maize, wheat, cassava and rice. It is funded by the Africa Development Bank (AfDB).
“When I went to the United States, to do my Masters, I was the only black person in my class, the only female, and the only foreigner. On top of that I had two small children. It was not easy. However, with determination and hard work, I was able to do exceedingly well in my studies, ” says Dr Mary Mgonja, the Head of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).
Dr Mgonja was sharing her journey on becoming a successful scientist as part of a panel discussion organized to mark this year’s International Women’s Day held at IITA offices in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The event dubbed “#Make It Happen for Women in Science” was in line with this year’s theme of the day “Make It Happen.”
The panel discussion brought together female researchers in Tanzania working in diverse research fields and at various levels of their career―those starting out and those at their peak to discuss and share their stories, successes, and challenges before an audience of IITA researchers and partners, the media, and aspiring young scientists drawn from surrounding secondary schools.
In addition to Dr Mgonja, the other panelists were Dr Costancia Rugumaru, Dean, Faculty of Science at the University of Dar es Salaam, School of Education; Dr Francesca Nelson, Senior Food Security Specialist, IITA; and Mary Maganga and Edda Mushi, both Research Supervisors at IITA. The session was facilitated by Dr Rose Shayo, a Senior Lecturer at IDS.
All the panelists shared on the various challenges they had undergone and the lessons they had learned along the way and offered words of encouragement to potential female scientists on the theme that kept repeating itself―hard work.
“In all the places you will work, be yourself, respect your superiors, and do your job well,” said Dr Regina Kapinga who will be joining IITA as Head of Advocacy and Resource Mobilization from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Dr Kapinga shared her journey from a simple village girl to working as a Senior Program Officer with the Gates Foundation.
“One of my biggest challenges was the lack of facilities to study science in my high school. We did not have laboratories and equipment, however, I persevered, did well, and processed to the university to pursue my degree in agronomy. At the university, we were very few students as many women said agronomy was very hard,” added Edda Mushi, on her challenges in school.
Dr Franscesca Nelson focused on the importance of tackling existing social conventions which were disadvantageous to women. These included issues such as violence against women and discrimination of women that were deeply rooted in cultural beliefs and social norms.
She also noted it was important for female researchers to use their knowledge and skills to find solutions to the challenges faced by poor rural women. For example, developing labor saving equipment and tackling inequalities.
Gender at IITA
While officially opening the event Dr Victor Manyong, IITA Director for Eastern Africa briefed participants on gender issues at the Institute. He said gender was very important to IITA as an international research organization whose goal was to tackle hunger, poverty, and malnutrition in sub-Saharan Africa.
“We cannot address poverty, hunger, and malnutrition in Africa without understanding and addressing the constraints faced by women farmers who in most communities provide the majority of agricultural labor on the family farm, and process food for markets as well as family consumption. In some communities, they are not allowed to own land or other agricultural assets and they have no say in any decisions on farm incomes and activities,” he said.
Dr Manyong added, “It’s therefore important to factor these considerations in our research-for-development interventions to ensure they benefit all Africans, women and men alike.”
The students from nearby secondary schools invited to the event appreciated the opportunity to meet and hear from successful researchers and said they had been very inspired.
“We were very happy to meet all these senior successful scientists who have motivated us and showed us that science can be for girls. We do not have many such opportunities and wish there would be more of such forums and even reach out to more girls including those in the rural areas,” said Glory Venance, a form 5 student at Jangwani Secondary School. “However, in our school similar to what one of the panelists shared, we do not have good facilities and equipment. Therefore even as we are being motivated to take up science, the government should also look into this challenge.”
The event was declared to be successful in many ways and the participants urged IITA and its partner institutions to find ways to organize other such forums to motivate girls to take up science and encourage the young scientists starting their careers.
Happy New Year! For the uninitiated, it is a common practice in most African countries to greet people “Happy New Year” if you see or meet a friend for the first time during the “new” year. And since this is my first blog for 2015 – and technically our first conversation – this year, let me greet you once again, “Happy new year!”
Anyway, I would like to tell you about my first visit this year to one of my favorite places on the continent – the southern Africa region! There is just something about this place – actually soothing and comforting, like a warm cup of tea on a cold day. It’s a welcome change to the fast-paced, hurried, hubbub of West Africa. That is why I always look forward to dropping by this place.
For this particular sortie to the South, I visited our stations in Nampula, Mozambique and Lusaka, Zambia.
For my first stop, I was in Nampula, Mozambique from the 26th to the 27th of January. This was very exciting for me since this was my first time in the country since I assumed office as IITA DG in 2011. And like a young boy opening presents on Christmas Day, I was thrilled to find out how the station, and more importantly its people, is doing.
One of the main reasons I visited Nampula was to personally review and discuss plans on the establishment of our permanent research and office facilities there. You see, at the moment, IITA occupies a small office space/room in a hotel in downtown Nampula – not a very ideal place to carry out research-for-development work from, right? With me in Mozambique were David Chikoye, the Director for the Southern Africa Region; Rod Bishop, Head of our Facilities Management Services; and Jacqueline Musiimenta, Chair of our Construction Review Committee. I pulled all the stops on this one to make sure that things start rolling – and roll quickly – to finally have our own facilities established in the country soon.
I apologized to the staff about the predicament that they are in. I promised that they will have their new office within 6 months, and by golly, I will make sure that they will have their office by then.
As with all my other country visits, I always want to hear from the station staff, our “boots on the ground”, and for them to hear from me regarding developments on a broader institutional level. And as a newbie in Mozambique, I was briefed on the challenges and opportunities facing both researchers and farmers in the country and the need for IITA presence there. I was also presented with some basic information about IITA-Mozambique: we have a total of 35 staff, of which 4 are international staff and the rest are local. Nineteen are based in Nampula and the rest are scattered across four provinces which, I was told, represents the different agro-ecologies that IITA does research in.
I was particularly impressed by the gender balance among the Nampula-based staff. I learned that out of the 15 national staff there, 7 are females. I am also quite fascinated by the young age (average) of staff, particularly the technicians and field staff which – I should admit – being young, outgoing, and strong are always an advantage. It is refreshing to see such young and beaming faces in the forefront of our work – something that exemplifies what I strongly believe in, of involving the youth in agriculture, but this is a topic for another blog.
I also explained how young careers have been built at IITA, citing myself and David as examples (to the chagrin of Dr Chikoye because, I think, I actually revealed how “young” he was). Anyway, my point was that a bright future usually awaits those who stick it out with IITA.
Then on the 29th of January, I was off to Lusaka, Zambia for the second leg of my Southern sortie. As in Mozambique, my one-day trip there was mainly two-fold: see the developments of the construction of the Southern Africa Research and Administration Hub (or affectionately known as SARAH) buildings and facilities (you may refer to my other blog on the SARAH groundbreaking held in 2012), and to hold dialogue with IITA-Zambia staff.
At the moment, there are two buildings nearing completion at SARAH: the main research and administration office block, and the cassava fabrication building. Contract for a third – the cassava processing building – has just been recently awarded to a contractor and is expected to be completed within 6-8 months.
During my ocular inspection of the ongoing construction of the SARAH facilities, I was assured by the contractor that the administration and equipment fabrication buildings will be ready by the end of March, which is good because I am bringing the IITA Board of Trustees to Lusaka in May to hold our first meeting of the year there. The last thing I want to see is the Board Chair sitting in an incomplete office, which would be bad, as in really, really bad!
As Zambia is host to the southern Hub, the completion and establishment of our permanent research and administrative facilities is a top priority. Once completed, these facilities will form the backbone of our R4D service delivery efforts in the region and concretize our foothold and presence in southern Africa.
I also toured other parts of the 30-hectare SARAH campus such as the recently established cassava demo plots and the cassava and soybean planting and harvesting equipment. I told David (Chikoye) that I see a lot of potential in this place – the soil is fertile, water resources are abundant, and the people are hardworking. I also see this campus being the jump-off point for the youth-in-agriculture program in the region. I mean, what else do you need – the place has the land, the facilities, and the expertise. I can already see young people being trained here – exciting times, indeed!
After my inspection of SARAH, I held a meeting with IITA-Zambia staff. There, I briefed them about recent developments at IITA, particularly about the budget cuts being experiences across CGIAR centers. I assured them that the absolute last thing that I would do is to let go of people to cope with the cuts. For me, the strength of the institute lies neither in the buildings nor its infrastructure, but rather in its people, its human assets. However, I also reminded them that in order for IITA to stay afloat, we all need to work hand-in-hand in generating funding – work that is traditionally in the domain of scientists but we now all need to pitch in.
But probably my most important message to staff in the southern Africa region – and perhaps in all IITA hubs – is that regardless of where one is based, we should never, ever forget that we work in just one institution, members of the same family. I’ve said this once and I will say it again: we are all in one boat called IITA, and whatever we do affects this boat, and whatever happens to the boat affects us all. So keep paddling away, my friends!
The event also enabled the project to get feedback from the farmers on the technologies that they preferred and which they would readily adopt to enhance productivity of cassava in the region to improve food and nutritional security and contribute to poverty reduction.
The technologies demonstrated at the event, held on 27 February 2014 at Kakonko District, Kigoma Region, in Tanzania, included intercropping and the use of fertilizers and new improved varieties.
Dr Mboyi Mugendi, a Zonal Research Director at the Lake Zone Agricultural Research and Development Institute (LZARDI) hailed the technologies being piloted by the SARD-SC project saying they had the potential to increase production of cassava, one of the region’s key staple crops, and contribute to efforts to improve food security and reduce poverty in the region.
“The improved cassava farming technologies being piloted by the project have the potential to significantly boost cassava production in this region and at the same time conserve soil fertility. However, the farmers will also need further training in order to adopt the new technologies being piloted,” said Dr Mugendi.
He added: “There is need to create awareness among the farmers on the importance of testing their soils so they can know the deficient minerals and the best crops to grow and fertilizers to use. They also need support in the testing.”
Cassava Mosaic Disease (CMD) and Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD) were identified as major challenges threatening production of cassava in the region. Dr Simon Jeremiah from LZARDI briefed the farmers on the two diseases, their symptoms, and the measures to take to stop their spread.
He also urged farmers to invest in the production of clean seeds and to change to the improved cassava varieties which are tolerant to the two diseases that the project will recommend from its trials.
Mr Christopher Briton Chugwa, Chairman of a farmers group in Kibondo District, said the farmers’ day was important as it exposed farmers to new technologies that had potential to increase yields to motivate them to improve their farming practices.
Miss Veronica Laurence, a farmer from Kiobela Village, said the improved varieties and farming practices being demonstrated by the project had better yields compared to the local varieties and local practices. However she added lack of financial resources was a major barrier to many farmers in adopting the new technologies.
Thanking the project on behalf of the Kakonko District Commissioner, Mrs Tausi Madebo, the Division Officer, said that the technologies demonstrated a lot of potential to boost cassava production. She encouraged farmers to form associations and work as a group to tap into the existing market opportunities for the crop in the area.
Participants at the event included farmers from Kakonko, Kiobela, and Kasanda villages, government officials, and staff from LZARD and IITA.
The SARD-SC is a multinational project led by several CGIAR centers whose objective is to enhance food and nutrition security and contribute to reducing poverty in selected Regional Membership Countries (RMCs) in Africa. Funded by the African Development Bank (AfDB), it focuses on raising the productivity and profitability of cassava, maize, rice, and wheat.
It is being implemented in Benin Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, DR Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
Last year, 2014, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) launched an agricultural youth program in Tanzania to contribute to efforts to tackle youth unemployment while, at the same time, using young people to modernize agriculture.
The program is part of an institute wide youth program known as IITA Agripreneurs started at its Headquarters in Ibadan Nigeria three years ago under the leadership of IITA Director General, Nteranya Sanginga. It has since spread to other countries where IITA is working including Kenya, Uganda, Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
In Tanzania, the program dubbed ‘IITA Tanzania Youth Agripreneurs’ (IYA) brings together graduates of different disciplines keen on pursuing agriculture as a business. The group has received training on modern farming methods and processing and value addition.
The group is engaged in four activities: production and processing of cassava, maize and soybean, production of vegetables and offering weeding services.
According to Veronica Kabwe, the chairlady of the group, the program is a very good opportunity for the youth: “We are getting free trainings…. It is a big opportunity and we have to take it as youth. The knowledge is very useful not just for IITA but even at home. It’s a very beneficial program for youth and I advise them to take it very seriously,” she says.