By JIMOH BABATUNDE with agency reports

Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) believes in homegrown solutions to Africa´s food security challenges through building capacity across the whole of agricultural value chain. The programs of the body reveal immense avenues through which different players in the sector from scientists to farmers, government officials as well as other policy makers implement solutions.

At the just concluded Africa Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) in Maputo, Mozambique, the body had the opportunity of showcasing their various intervention projects in the countries they operate in the continent.  In Mozambique´s Umbeluzi Agriculture Research Centre, Ilam , AGRA was proud to present the success of its intervention in Maize and Potatoes production.

Before AGRA´s intervention, Mozambique’s seed system value chain remains undeveloped, with inadequate but improving capacity within its National Agricultural Research Institute, IIAM.  It was highlighted that lack of finance, low human capacity and poor variety release procedures continued to impact on breeding activities. Just as seed production and processing also remained weak with all foundation seed being produced by Ilam.

Through AGRA´s program for Africa seed System (PASS) intervention, grants aimed at strengthening the capacity of plant breeders were offered. Today some of the grantees were on hand to reveal the successes they have made in improved Maize and Potatoes production in the country. Mr Richard Mwanza, an AGRA representative in Mozambique speaking on the work of  AGRA, disclosed  that AGRA supports programmes in 16 countries.  AGRA’s support spans from capacity building to directly equipping farmers such as Mr Temane.  Mr Mwanza went on to say that in all its work, the focus is on smallholder farmers, and so far 20 million dollars has been spent in the different programmes.

The focus on smallholder farmers is also within the ambit of CAADP’s agribusiness strategy to have a dynamic agribusiness sector that generates jobs and contributes to growth and food security in Africa. Two of the AGRA research grantees, Dr Pedro Fato, a researcher in Maize and Mr  José Ricardo, researcher in Potatoes, spoke on what they have done and the success achieved so far.

Dr Pedro Fato, who has been working in maize breeding for 20 years, explained that his work at Umbeluzi involves breeding maize that is tolerant to multiple constraints such as down mildew, and pests that are prevalent both in the field and in storage. During the media field visit, Dr Fato went on to explain that down mildew is especially prevalent in low lying areas in Mozambique, hence the importance of this project in Mozambique that has a high number of areas that often get water logged.

Dr Fato further explained that down mildew is carried on through seeds, and the maize breeding project has so far produced twelve maize varieties.  The focus of this breeding project is smallscale farmers who make up 90 per cent of maize growers in Mozambique.  The maize breeding project has so far released five hybrids that have been released on the market since 2002. The varieties are now producing better yields per hectare as testified by local farmers.

Mr  José Ricardo, a sweet potato breeder with more than fifteen years’ experience reported that after maize and cassava, sweet potatoes are the third most important crops in  Mozambique.  Sweet potatoes are grown for their leaves and roots. The breeding of sweet potato varieties at the Umbeluzi Research Centre is a local breeding programme that focusses on breeding plants that are resistant to drought and disease. Since 2011, fifteen sweet potato varieties have been produced at the Centre.

The Centre also trains smallholder farmers to reproduce the developed varieties in their communities. Each farmer can in turn distribute the varieties to at least another 100 other farmers.

The Centre currently evaluates sweet potato varieties for draught resistance and multiplication to local farmers.  There are currently 200 farmers that Centre provides sweet potato vines to for replanting, in turn, the 200 farmers redistribute the vine cuttings to a further 2000 000 farmers, all from the 15 cloned varieties. A survey is currently underway to ascertain the level of success.

Mr SebastiaoTemane, a 49 year old potato grower has a 2 hectare holding. He was initially a farmer, but left to become a miner in South Africa.  Mr Temane reported to the media that he resumed farming so he could take better care of his family. He sells his potatoes for a profit in a village called Mahubu. He also grows onions, beans and vegetables as well as the sweet potato varieties from the Umbeluzi Research Centre.

Mr Temane cultivates the sweet potato vines that he received from the Centre, and sells the tubars to other small-scale farmers. “There is now improvement in yield and people are happy. Being a farmer in Mozambique is good because I produce enough to look after my family,” said Mr Temane.

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