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Experts Discuss The Benefits Of Cultivating Cassava In Tanzania

Mtwara/Dar es Salaam.

As the Tanzania Meteorological Authority (TMA) forecast rainfall below average from November 2021 to April 2022 in most parts of the country, farmers were advised to cultivate drought-resistant crops.

Cassava is among the crops that could serve the intended purpose – given that it grows in most parts of Tanzania. Statistics show that Tanzania is 13th worldwide – and sixth in Africa – producing over 7 million tonnes of cassava a year.

Regions where the crop is grown include Mtwara, Lindi, Mwanza, Shinyanga, Tanga, Ruvuma, Mara, Kigoma and the Coast, as well as in some parts of Zanzibar.

The crop matures in a short period, assuring farmers and the nation of food safety during shortages due to failing harvests.

The acting director for the Tanzania Agriculture Research Institute’s (Tari) a Naliendele Centre, Dr Fortunus Kapinga, says cassava could be cultivated in the same fields as cashew in the southern regions.

“That will reduce the cost of caring for cashew farms. It will also help in maintaining moisture due to the presence of cashew trees as sheds,” he said.

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A tuber researcher at the Naliendele Centre, Mr Festo Masisila, says Lindi, Mtwara and Ruvuma regions are places where cassava is used as a major food crop.

He says the Lake Zone produces 37 percent of all cassava, followed by the southern zone (Lindi, Mtwara and Ruvuma) that produce 28 percent of the total cassava produced in the country.

The eastern, central and western zones have significantly contributed to the amount of cassava produced in the country, according to him.

He says Kigoma Region is coming up fast among good cassava producers, noting that its geographical location gives it a better position to export raw and processed products.

“Farmers should understand the role played by cassava in food security.

“The crop is also highly demanded by neighbouring countries for food and other uses,” he says, urging Tanzanians to tap the opportunity in order to benefit.
Cassava cultivation

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Mr Masisila says cassava requires fertile and soft soil that allows full penetration of tubers.

“Despite being a drought resistant crop, cassava requires an average of 600 to 1200-millimetre rainfall a year. However, the rains shouldn’t be continuous,” he says.

He adds that, in case cassava is grown and receives enough rainfall within three consecutive months, the crop can resist drought for the remaining period until harvests.
Cassava varieties

According to Mr Masisila, a farmer is supposed to be extra careful in the choice of the best cassava variety to be planted in a farm.

Basically, factors to be considered should include resistance to drought, pests and diseases as well as high yield capacity at an average of 20 to 50 tonnes per hectare annually.

He names some few better varieties in the country askizimbani, Mkuranga, taricas1 to 3, hinting that there were up to 20 better ones that could be grown in the country.
Site preparation

A farmer is supposed to fell trees and thoroughly plough the land before planting the cuttings.

In areas like Namtumbo in Ruvuma Region where porous soil is missing, farmers could construct terraces in order to provide room for cassava tuber penetration.
Cassava cuttings

Cassava cuttings are usually collected in the field during harvesting, but improved varieties may also be obtained from research institutions.

Cassava cuttings of 20 to 30cm long from the central portions of the brown healthy stems should be obtained at around 12 months old.

Significantly hard and tender stems should be avoided as healthy crops can be identified through strong stems and branches, lush foliage, stems and leaves showing little damage from diseases or pests.

To ensure uniform growth, harvest the stems about a week before setting and store them in the shade, in a well-ventilated area.

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The cuttings should be taken at the time of planting or on the day before and that each cutting should have five to seven dormant buds.

Planting should be at a density of between 6,000 and 10,000 plants per hectare, or with spacing of between 1.5 x 1m to 1 x 1m for single cultivation and 2 x 2m with inter-cropping, or 2,500 plants per hectare.

The cuttings are planted horizontally, diagonally or vertically, with one or two cuttings per placement.

The best method is to push them in sideways up to their length, with the knots pointing upwards.

Positioning the knots upside down reduces the yield, but planting sideways favours the consolidation of the roots into one area and results in a grouping of tubers, which makes harvesting easier.

According to Mr Masisila, at least four knots of cassava out of eight in the cutting should be covered in the soil leaving the remaining four to sprout.
Weeding

Cassava requires smooth measures of combating weeds by hoeing two or three times; three to four weeks after planting; one to two months after the first weeding and immediately at the start of the second year.
Pests and diseases

A principal tuber researcher, Ms Bernadetha Kimata, said mice were among crop pests seriously affecting cassava and could cause a significant loss to farmers.

“White flies are the major disease transmitting agents. Instead of relying on chemical applications, farmers should make better choices of pests and disease resistant varieties,” she says.

She says cassava mill berg and green fleas are among the pests that could lead to a serious loss of harvests to farmers.

“Farmers should have a habit of regularly visiting the farm and take immediate measures to prevent spreading of pests and transmission to nearby farms,” she says.

Common diseases affecting cassava include; the African cassava mosaic disease; anthracnose; bacterial blight; cassava mealybug; variegated cricket and cassava root mealybug.

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However, instead of industrial chemical application, experts suggest that diseases could be controlled through proper use of resistant varieties.
Harvesting

A maximum of 500 kilogrammes of tubers are harvested daily in compacted soil, and up to 1,000 kilos of tubers are harvested each day in wet and light soil.

The dry season is the best time to harvest cassava due to the richness of starch that time, easy to dry, processing and preservation.

The early varieties may mature at an average of six and eight months after planting, whereas the late varieties of cassava require 12 and 19 months under optimal conditions.

In the humid savannah, the late varieties should be harvested 20 -to-24 months after planting.

The yield varies from 20-to-30 tonnes per hectare for local varieties and from 25-to-70 tonnes per hectare for improved varieties.

In hostile environments where other crops fail, cassava can provide good yields. In typical conditions, the yield may vary between eight to 15 tonnes of tubers per hectare.
Storage

Field storage method is the most common used at family farms, but it reduces productivity of the land, making it difficult to be used for growing new crops.

Tubers, which can easily be attacked by rodents, insects and nematodes become more fibrous and liquefied, resulting in lower nutritional value.

Cassava is stored as chips (i.e. cut-up cassava, shredded or un-shredded).
TMA alert

On October 27, 2021, the TMA director general, Dr Agnes Kijazi, warned of possible drought in most parts of the country from November 2021 to April 2022.

She said Kigoma, Tabora, Dodoma, Singida, Katavi, Rukwa, Songwe, Mbeya and Iringa will get average rainfall, while Njombe, Ruvuma, Lindi, Mtwara and Morogoro South are expected to get below the average rainfall.TAP HERE TO READ MORE ARTICLES

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