By Felix Kaiza
Two days to the celebration of the 56th anniversary of Mainland Tanzania Independence Day, the media has carried a sad story for a country famously known to survive on agriculture.
Who and What? Smallholder farmers in one Simiyu Region ward find themselves having to make a difficult decision, to borrow from political clichés. It’s cotton or maize. They choose maize. They uproot cotton plants. It sounds reasonable. Food first; the rest follow.
Why? They are tired of confusing cotton growing procedures.
How come they are confused? The region has been growing cotton since the colonial days. The Lake Zone is home to agricultural training and research facilities. Where is the missing link? Knowledgeable extension workers are raised. Improved cotton seed strains are being developed. The land is there. Growers likewise are there.
Why this state of affairs? Then we know. Lack of proper knowledge is the problem. Farmers are encouraged to adopt mixed farming practices. But they are not made to understand that certain crops cannot be mixed with others in the same plot. This would be mix not mixed farming.
Our farmers do not know that maize stalks host pests which are harmful to cotton plants. So inter-planting maize with cotton is not only bad but could also be culpable in the presence of delivering by-laws. To say the least, it is an agro crime to inter-plant cotton and maize.
May be this could be one of the reasons to support the most recent move of the Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA) to start a journalism training wing to develop a cadre for passing on visionary or delivering agro information to the grassroots.
If we manage to raise one competent agricultural information communicator, we would have reached thousands of smallholder farmers.
Tanzania must also be careful about agro recommendations it receives from global institutions. In the mid 1990s we took a World Bank credit, through which we ended up declaring extension officers redundant.
Today we are struggling to raise the stock of the same people we laid off.