Zanzibar’s pilot seedling production unit revolutionizing vegetable production

There is a high demand for vegetables in the island of Zanzibar, known for its sandy beaches and historic Stone Town, but the local farmers are unable to effectively tap into this lucrative tourist market despite the fertile soils and an accommodating climate ideal for vegetable production. The majority of vegetables are imported, mostly from the mainland, at high cost.

A major challenge is that local vegetable varieties are low yielding and suffer from pest and disease attack. One project is working with smallholder farmers in Zanzibar for the safe production of vegetables, to tap into the market, increase their income, and contribute to lowering the price of vegetables for local consumers.

The project has linked up with the Zanzibar Agricultural Investment and Development Inc. (ZAIDI) and in cooperation with the Tanzanian Agricultural Productivity Program (TAPP) has piloted an innovative seedling production unit to deliver healthy seedlings of improved varieties to farmers.

Makame Hamis, from Kitumba village, Central District, shows the high yielding tomato on his farm.
Makame Hamis, from Kitumba village, Central District, shows the high yielding tomato on his farm.

It is encouraging farmers to grow high-yielding, improved vegetable varieties, and use good agricultural practices, particularly on reducing losses from pests and diseases. At the same time it is reducing farmers’ reliance on synthetic pesticides.

The project, led by IITA, is funded by the German Government through the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ) and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and extends across coastal East Africa.

“Most farmers who grow vegetables do so mostly for home use and use small plots. They plant local seeds which they produce for themselves. The project aims to change the mindset of farmers towards vegetable farming, commercialize it, and tap into a ready market,” says Dr Danny Coyne, IITA soil health specialist and the project coordinator.

“Most farmers in Zanzibar produce their own seedlings using a small portion of the field for their nurseries; some cover them with mosquito nets to keep away pests. But a key threat comes from the soil―from soil-borne diseases and pests such as nematodes. We are therefore training farmers how to produce and handle the healthy seedlings,” Danny says. “Healthy seedlings need less pesticide. This reduces costs and also makes the vegetables safer for consumers.”

Danny Coyne and Adullahi Yahie in the green house looking at tomato seedlings
Danny Coyne and Adullahi Yahie in the green house looking at tomato seedlings

The pilot seedling production unit in Zanzibar was established in 2013 at ZAIDI, using an AMIRAN Farmers Kit―a small plastic greenhouse. ZAIDI is growing seedlings, mostly tomato and pepper, using seedling trays and sterile media. When farmers purchase seeds at the ZAIDI store, they can choose whether to take the seeds away to plant directly or  alternatively to pay an additional cost for ZAIDI to prepare the seedlings for collection when three weeks old. The seedlings are also enhanced with a biological treatment for protection against nematodes and other soil-borne diseases through a further collaboration with Real IPM, a company based in Kenya producing biologically based pest management products. The site is also used for the demonstration of good farming practices.

“The demand for the healthy planting material is so high. We don’t have enough seedlings to meet this demand. Currently we are selling healthy seedlings to about 20 farmers a month,” says Abdullahi Yahie, the founder of ZAIDI.

Reaping rewards from using clean seeds

Makame Hamis, 58, from Kitumba village, Central District, is one of the farmers growing the hybrid seeds purchased from ZAIDI. He has also received training on good farming practices to maximize his yield.

“I have been growing local varieties of tomato for three years. But now I am growing hybrid varieties which I bought from ZAIDI and I can see a big difference. Before, I would lose nearly half my plants to diseases but not anymore. Now my income has increased three times,” Hamis said.

Encouraged by the good results, Hamis is expanding his vegetable production and investing in drip irrigation to ensure year-round production. The project has chosen him as a model farmer to demonstrate other improved farming practices and encourage surrounding farmers to use quality hybrid varieties and healthy seedlings.

Danny Coyne (rightmost) and Abdullahi Yahie (left) in the ZAIDI store for agro-inputs in Zanzibar.
Danny Coyne (rightmost) and Abdullahi Yahie (left) in the ZAIDI store for agro-inputs in Zanzibar.

Hamis Abdi Miraji, 63, and Ali Suleiman Ame, 52, are also good customers of ZAIDI. “We have received training from ZAIDI on the use of healthy seedlings, and safe use of pesticides. We have now seen that vegetable farming can be a good business. We can make money from it,” says Miraji.

Challenges in supply of healthy seeds

ZAIDI also faces many challenges but it plans to concentrate on the production and supply of clean healthy seedlings and support farmers in adopting better agricultural practices,” says Abdullahi. “We see real potential to make a positive change in the lives of farmers in Zanzibar.”

Many organizations have also seen the potential for vegetables in the island and are supporting the farmers and ZAIDI to increase production. These include the Government of Zanzibar and the Zanzibar Agricultural Research Institute. Soon, fresh vegetables will be more accessible to Zanzibaris. The hundreds of thousands of tourists who visit the island every year will be enjoying locally grown fresh vegetables, thus having more impact in the lives of the local communities and supporting the island’s economy.

CGIAR top managers visit IITA Business Incubation Platform

While participating in the Humidtropics conference on systems research this week, CGIAR top managers Frank Rijsberman and Ann Tutwiler found some time to visit IITA’s Business Incubation Platform (BIP). They were accompanied by IITA Board member Roel Merckx and IWMI’s Africa Director Timothy Williams, and welcomed by the IITA’s DG Nteranya Sanginga and the IITA Youth Agripreneurs. The Agripreneurs are promoting agriculture among other young people in the region through peer education, training, and demonstration on agricultural best practices and business skills in value chain developments.

DG Nteranya Sanginga explaining about the soybean inoculant Nodumax, IITA Business Incubation Platform.
DG Nteranya Sanginga explaining about the soybean inoculant Nodumax, IITA Business Incubation Platform.

“All over Africa, many young people are migrating to cities in search of business opportunities, leaving behind an increasingly ageing population. The challenge is to create business opportunities for productive activity in agriculture and non-farm enterprises, for increased food security but also for combating youth unemployment,” said Dr Sanginga.

CGIAR CEO Rijsberman congratulated IITA for “pioneering the agripreneur approach” and underlined that a precise investment model on integrating the challenge of youth unemployment into research on food security had not yet been established in the consortium. Bioversity DG Tutwiler was in particular pleased that the Agripreneurs were working on nutritional cash crops, vegetables, and soy milk, and were investing in fish farming.

IITA Business Incubation Platform.
IITA Business Incubation Platform.

“When we decided in CGIAR on our main crops, we might have forgotten the nutritional values that vegetables and fish can bring to a diet – not only to improve food deficiencies, but also as a measure against obesity,” she said. Dr Sanginga emphasized that the annual return on investment in the fish ponds managed by the IITA Youth Agripreneurs was about $400,000.

The goal of the BIP aflasafe plant and laboratories is to develop cheaper, more effective formulations and manufacturing methods for a product which is combating the deadly aflatoxins found in major staple crops in Africa. The plant is compatible with African farming and business models and can easily be transferred to the private sector. The aflasafe plant is also busy manufacturing the urgently needed product to answer increasing requests from all over the continent. On the day of the visit, the plant was about to produce 8 tons of aflasafe to be air-shipped to Kenya in the evening.

“This is our answer to a request from the Kenyan Government,” explained Lawrence Kaptoge, the aflasafe plant manager. “In Kenya we need to fight aflatoxins now because strains of the plant fungus have already killed many people, as well as increasing the cases of deadly diseases, such as liver cancer.”

The plant can produce up to 40 tons of aflasafe a day but the BIP’s main goal is to get interested parties to invest in plant construction and laboratories all over Africa. More plants and reference laboratories are expected to be built, as the aflatoxin strains are different in each region; they need to be identified before the right aflasafe product can be developed and manufactured. “The many existing requests from countries such as Kenya, Nigeria, Zambia, or Senegal prove that the BIP has developed a business opportunity that improves food safety and might help to save many lives in Africa,” said Kaptoge.

NoduMax is a new legume inoculant for soybean that was recently developed at BIP with the award- winning N2Africa Project. Each package of NoduMax costs about $1.03 to produce and, with manufacturer’s and retailers’ inputs, is expected to be sold for about $2.60, sufficient to inoculate 10 to 20 kg of soybean seeds. The product compares favorably to inoculants produced in other countries where product quality is closely regulated. Product development and efficacy testing continue and the first packages of NoduMax intended for sale are now being produced. The registration of the product for commercial distribution in Nigeria is under way and the first peak production run is just starting as 16 tons of the soybean inoculant are to be produced by April 2015.

The visitors were visibly impressed: “A new vision, passionate people, and promising developments – there is huge potential in IITA’s approach for developing the BIP,” concluded Dr Rijsberman.

Video: Story of IITA Agripreneurs in Tanzania

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.

Other links:

Tanzania: Youths Deserve Jobs to Sustain Their Daily Lives

Tanzania trains Agripreneurs for agriculture change



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.

Simple Innovations Revolutionize Farming in Zanzibar

Vegetables are high value and nutritious crops. However they are attacked by a wide range of pests and diseases. IITA is working with small-holder farmers to find sustainable ways to control these pests and diseases to increase vegetable production, and improve the livelihoods of the smallholder growers. This is through a grant from the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ) and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). This video by Planet Forward  is focusing on some of this work in the island of Zanzibar.