Tanzania’s quest to become a leading seed producer in the East African region may remain a dream, at least for now, despite huge potential.
While the seed variety release remains longer than necessary, less than 32 percent of the newly released varieties had climate-smart features.
This emerged last week during the release of Tanzania Country Report, 2021 which assessed the performance of the country’s struggling seed industry.
The report by The African Seed Access Index (TASAI), a Kenya-based think tank, noted that the increase of local seed breeders has not helped matters either.
The local breeders relied heavily on collaboration with the global network of agricultural research centres whose varieties do not suit Tanzania’s agronomic conditions.
Between 2018 and last year, the report said, there had been an increase in the number of new seed varieties released, 70 percent by the private sector
However, of the newly released varieties, less than 32 percent had climate-smart features “which may prove inadequate, given the quickly evolving challenge of global warming”.
The report presented before the seed stakeholders followed a recent study by the continental seed industry research initiative based in Nairobi.
It targeted four crops; maize, rice, beans and sunflower which agricultural experts say account for 58 percent of all land harvested under cereals, pulses and oil crops.
Maize and rice cover the largest land areas under cultivation in the country, reaching 4.9 million and 1.7 million hectares respectively.
While beans are the main source of protein in household diets, sunflower has gained prominence as the largest oil seed crop for edible oil processing plants.
The crop accounts for 35 percent of all oil seed production in Tanzania and has lately attracted investors in sunflower oil processing plants estimated to be over 20.
Tanzania currently has 43 companies producing and marketing seeds from the four crops, with over 70 percent controlled by the private sector, the survey indicated.
For maize and beans, the private sector controls 96 percent and 93 percent of the market respectively while the government entities control 82 percent of the rice seed market.
But, when presenting the report, Mr Firmin Mizambwa, managing director of JWD Agro Inputs Centre, said the country’s potential in seed production has not been fully tapped.
“Tanzania has significant potential and competitive advantage over the neighbouring countries to develop a vibrant seed sector,” he told the stakeholders at an Arusha hotel.
The vast arable land and suitable agro-ecological conditions make Tanzania a potential hub for seed production in the region, especially now with full involvement of the private sector.
However, the CEO of the Morogoro-based seed firm noted that the variety release process for the seeds took longer than necessary.
Stakeholders, he pointed out, believe it would be possible to reduce it to as little as 12 months “if the current processes are streamlined”.
He said despite the gains made recently due to a raft of reforms in agriculture, the number of public extension staff has been on the decline, stifling agricultural development efforts.
The number of public extension officers declined by 221 from 6,925 in 2016, the organisation said, calling for determined efforts to reverse the trend.
“There will be no well-functioning seed sector without extension officers. It is them who sensitise the farmers to use improved varieties,” he added.
According to the Tanzania Seed Traders Association (Tasta), the availability of the quality seeds in the local markets has lately improved.
They increased from 10,946 tonnes in 2014/15 to 77,252 tonnes in 2019/20, an increase of 87 percent.
The rise has been attributed to an 80 percent increased production of the seeds locally from 4,337 tonnes in 2015/15 to 61,893 tonnes in 2019/20.
Overall, the annual demand of improved seeds stands at 187,000 tibbes, according to Samson Poneja, a senior agricultural officer with the ministry of Agriculture.
Recently the ministry directed that there should be no cess imposed on seed trade by the local governments as it would impact on availability of improved seeds to the farm