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Essay: Improving agricultural productivity (focus on Tanzania)

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Abstract:

Agriculture is the most lucrative factor of Tanzania’s economy. The sector accounts for 26.8% of the GDP, and about 80% of the workforce. However, only a quarter of the 44 million hectares of land in Tanzania is used for agriculture. The biggest aspects of Tanzania’s low agricultural productivity is lack of response to changing weather patterns, the lack of a consistent farming system, the lack of awareness of different farming systems. Therefore, in this meta-analysis, the possibility of agricultural productivity improving was examined by evaluating the effectiveness of GM crops, with the assistance of either nitrogen fertilizers or legumes for biological nitrogen fixation. Original studies for inclusion in this meta-analysis were identified through keyword searches in relevant literature databanks such as Deerfield Academy’s Ebscohost Database, Google Scholar and Google. After an evaluation of many studies, GM crops could be a solution under many conditions. Companies like Monsanto are willing to either allow farmers to save and exchange seeds without penalty OR are willing to as the WEMA project claims continuously supply these seed varieties as requested by farmers. Scientists perform a study that is transferable from one area to another, in terms of the different agronomic and environmental choices that is necessary to either implement either an increase in fertilizer use or legume biological nitrogen fixation. Farmers are educated and receptive of GM technology, nitrogen fertilizer and legume biological nitrogen fixation. This includes the effectiveness and effiency of all three systems. Commercial banks, the government, donors are willing to sponsor the increase in fertilizer use or subsidize the costs.

Introduction

Agriculture is the most lucrative factor of Tanzania’s economy. The sector accounts for 26.8% of the GDP, and about 80% of the workforce. However, only a quarter of the 44 million hectares of land in Tanzania is used for agriculture. Even with only a quarter of the land used, most is damaged by soil erosion, low soil productivity and land degradation. This is a result of several agricultural and economic problems including poor access to improved seeds, limited modern technologies, dependence on rain-fed agriculture, lack of education on updated farming techniques, limited funding by the government and availability of fertilizers. Tanzanian agriculture is characterized primarily by small-scale subsistence farming, and so approximately 85 percent of the arable land is used by smallholders cultivating between 0.2 ha and 2.0 ha. Tanzania devotes about 87% of their land to food crops, which include mainly banana, cassava, cereal, pulses and sweet potatoes. The other 13% is used for cash crops that include cashew, coffee, pyrethrum, sugar, tea and tobacco. Tanzania’s food crop production yields are estimated to be only 20-30% of potential yields. The average food crop productivity in Tanzania stood at about 1.7 tons/ha far below the potential productivity of about 3.5 to 4 ton/ha.

The biggest aspect of Tanzania’s low agricultural productivity, is the dependence on rain-fed agriculture, lack of a consistent farming system and the lack of awareness of different farming systems. Because of this, many studies have been done to promote either the more traditional approach of chemical fertilizer use, the genetic approach of GM crops or a more sustainable approach of using legumes for nitrogen fixation. I will be evaluating these three methods in this study. Both chemical fertilizers and legumes are currently being used by mostly uneducated Tanzanian farmers, but a very low level.

This study focuses on each farming system in relation to maize especially. This is because maize is the most preferred staple food and cash crop in Tanzania. Maize is grown in all agro-ecological zones in the country. Over two million hectares of maize are planted per year with average yields of between 1.2–1.6 tonnes per hectare. Maize accounts for 31 percent of the total food production and constitutes more than 75 percent of the cereal consumption in the country. About 85 percent of Tanzania’s population depends on it as an income-generating commodity. It is estimated that the annual per capita consumption of maize in Tanzania is over 115Kg; national consumption is projected to be three to four million tonnes per year.

A GM trial has just officially started last October, in the Dodoma region, a semi-arid area in the central part of the country. Tanzania took a long time to approve this trial because of its strict liability clause in the Environment Management Biosafety Regulations that stated that scientists, donors and partners funding research would be held accountable in the event of any damage that might occur during or after research on GMO crops. However, it was revised, and the trial began. It sets out to demonstrate whether or not a drought- tolerant GM white maize hybrid developed by the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project can be grown effectively in the country. Because of Tanzania’s dependence on rain-fed agriculture, this initiative could provide hope in increasing agricultural productivity of not only corn, but other food and cash crops. The project is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Howard G. Buffett Foundation. The gene comes from a common soil bacterium and was made by Monsanto, a sustainable agriculture company that develops better seeds and systems to help farmers with productivity on the farm and grow more nutritious food while conserving natural resources, under the WEMA project. The GM seeds are affordable to farmers who works on relatively small plots of land. The corn is expected to increase yields by 25% during modern drought.

Nitrogen fertilizers (NF) are the conventional method, therefore it has the most recognition, but also the most controversy. NFs has boosted the amount of food that farms can produce, and the number of people that can be fed by farmers meeting crop demands for nitrogen and increase yield. The annual growth rate of nitrogen fertilizers in the world is 1.3%. Of the overall increase in demand for 6 million tons nitrogen between 2012 and 2016, 60 percent would be in Asia, 19 percent in America, 13 percent in Europe, 7 percent in Africa and 1 percent in Oceania.However, NFs have been linked to numerous environmental hazards including marine eutrophication, global warming, groundwater contamination, soil imbalance and stratospheric ozone destruction. In particular, in Sub-Saharan Africa, including Tanzania, nitrate runoff and leaching mainly from commercial farms have led to excessive eutrophication of fresh waters and threatened the lives of various fish species. However, this is because of the lack of understanding on the farmers of how much to use for a plot versus Tanzanian farmers having too much access to fertilizers. There also many health effects such as babies can ingest high nitrogen levels of water, and gets sick with gastrointestinal swelling and irritation, diarrhea, and protein digestion problems. Nitrogen leaches into groundwater as nitrate, which has been linked with blue-baby syndrome in infants, adverse birth outcomes and various cancers. Economically speaking, nitrogen fertilizers have become a huge cost in agriculture.

Legume nitrogen fixation provides a sustainable alternative to the costly and environmentally unfriendly nitrogen fertilizer for small-scaled farms. Biological nitrogen fixation is the process that changes inert N2 into biologically useful NH3 by plants. Perennial and forage legumes, such as alfalfa, sweet clover, true clovers, and vetches, may fix 250–500 pounds of nitrogen per acre. In a study that compared the environmental, energetic and economic factors of organic and conventional farming systems, in legume-based farming, the crop yields and economics of organic systems compared with the conventional definitely varied based on the type of crop, region and growing conditions however the environmental benefits attributable to reduced chemical inputs, less soil erosion, water conservation and improved soil organic matter were consistently greater in organic systems using legumes. However, there are many factors that also need to be in place for legumes to be the best option, this includes considering the best growing system, growing conditions, and non-fixing crops to grow with it.

The reason I wanted to study agriculture in Tanzania, particularly, is because of my love for the country after spending two weeks there learning about sustainable development and sustainable agriculture. Understanding the impact that agriculture has on the people and the economy is very inspirational to me, and connects to my passion in easing global hunger.

The purpose of this study is to provide a solution to Tanzania’s long standing fight against improving agricultural yields with a heavy consideration on drought tolerance through evaluating GMO crops, with the assistance of either increasing nitrogen fertilizer use or legumes for biological nitrogen fixation. With each approach comes many obstacles and challenges but also rewards if done properly. I believe the reason none of these methods have taken dominance is because of the lack of proper implementation, maintenance and funding. Therefore, the study will also address those concerns with each, and discuss a plan to follow if GM crops are used with either legumes or nitrogen fertilizers or both.

Methods and Materials

Original studies for inclusion in this meta-analysis were identified through keyword searches in relevant literature databanks such as Google, Google Scholar and Deerfield Academy’s Ebscohost Database. I searched combinations of keywords to agriculture in Tanzania, GM technology, chemical fertilizer use in Tanzania and legume nitrogen fixation. Concrete keywords used related to agriculture in Tanzania were “agriculture in Tanzania,”problems affecting agriculture in Tanzania,” “farm yields in Tanzania.” Concrete keywords used related to GM technology were “GM crops,” “GM trial in Tanzania,” “Impact of GM crops,” “drought tolerant maize,” “herbicide tolerant,” “insect resistant.” Concrete words used related to chemical fertilizer use in Tanzania includes “fertilizer assessment in Tanzania,” “fertilizers costly in Tanzania,” “environmental impacts of fertilizer use in Tanzania,” “economic impacts of fertilizers in Tanzania.” Concrete keywords I searched for legume nitrogen fixation were “legume nitrogen fixation,” “improving yields with legumes,” “best legumes for nitrogen fixation,” “economic impact of legume nitrogen fixation.” The search was completed by February 2017.

Most of the publications on Google were news articles and articles in academic journals and website pages while Google Scholar and Deerfield Academy’s Ebscohost Database comprised of book chapters, conference papers, working papers, academic journals and reports in institutional series. Articles published in academic journals were all passed through a peer-reviewed process. Some of the working papers and reports are published by research institutes or government organizations, while others are NGO publications.

Each published work had to meet certain criteria to be included.

  • If it is a news article, it had to be from credible news sources like the Guardian, New York Times and Washington Post.
  • If it is from a academic journal, it had to be from a credible organization, institution or university like the World Bank, the UN, Wellesley College.

The study is an empirical investigation of the economic, health, or environmental impacts of GM crops in particular GM maize, legume nitrogen fixation, and chemical fertilizers, with focus on Tanzania.

The study reports the impacts of GM crops, legume nitrogen fixation, and chemical fertilizers, with focus on Tanzania, in terms of one of more of the following outcome variables: yield, farmer profits, environmental, economic and health advantages and disadvantages.

Results and Discussion

Problems with maize production

According to The African Agricultural Technology Foundation, in a policy brief detailing the WEMA project, despite the importance of maize as the main staple crop, average yields in farmers’ per hectare compared to the estimated potential yields of 4–5 metric tonnes per hectare. While farmers are keen on increasing maize productivity, their efforts are hampered by a wide range of constraints. The Foundation has identified three reasons for the low productivity of maize, which can be applied to any crop in Tanzania that grows in a semi-arid region:

Inadequate use of inputs such as fertiliser, improved maize seed and crop protection chemicals. The inputs are either not available or too expensive for the farmers to afford

Inadequate access to information and extension services. Many farmers continue to grow unsuitable varieties because they have no access to information about improved maize technologies due to the low levels of interaction with extension

Drought is a major threat to maize production in many parts of Tanzania. Maize production can be a risky and unreliable business because of erratic rainfall and the high susceptibility of maize to drought. The performance of local drought-tolerant cultivars is poor. Maize losses can go as high as 50 percent due to drought related stress.

These constraints highlight exactly what the problem is with increasing productivity. Without improving these three constraints for all crops and farmers, Tanzania’s agricultural productivity can never increase.

GM Crop Evaluation

Transgenic plants are species that have been genetically modified using recombinant DNA technology. Scientists have turned this method for many reasons including: engineering resistance to abiotic stresses like drought, extreme temperatures or salinity, or biotic stresses, such as insects and pathogens, that would normally be detrimental to plant growth or survival. In 2007, for the twelfth consecutive year, the global area of biotech crops planted continued to increase, with a growth rate of 12% across 23 countries. As of 2010, 14 million farmers from 25 countries, including 16 developing countries grow GM crops.

Right now, South Africa is the only African country that has completely implemented GMO crops including HT/Bt/HT-Bt cotton, HT/Bt/HT-Bt maize and HT soybean which are some of Tanzania’s major food and cash crops. South Africa has gained an income of US$156 million since the country switched mostly to biotech crops from 1998-2006. A study published in 2005 by Marnus Gouse is a Researcher in the Department of Agricultural Economics, Extension and Rural Development at the University of Pretoria, South Africa, involved 368 small and resource-poor farmers and 33 commercial farmers, the latter divided into irrigated and dry-land maize production systems. The data indicated that under irrigated conditions Bt maize resulted in an 11% higher yield, a cost savings in insecticides of US$18/ha equivalent to a 60% cost reduction, and an increase income of US$117/hectare. Under rain-fed conditions Bt maize resulted in an 11% higher yield, a cost saving on insecticides of US$7/ha equivalent to a 60% cost reduction, and an increased income of US$35/hectare.

Richard Sitole, the chairperson Hlabisa District Farmers’ Union, KZN in South Africa, said 250 emergent subsistence farmers of his Union planted Bt maize on their smallholdings, averaging 2.5 hectares, for the first time in 2002. His own yield increased by 25% from 80 bags for conventional maize to 100 bags, earning him an additional income of US$300 as of November 2007. He said, “I challenge those who oppose GM crops for emergent farmers to stand up and deny my fellow farmers and me the benefit of earning this extra income and more than sufficient food for our families.”

Because South Africa has the necessary resources, funding and experience in biotech crops, it can thrive in both the international public and private sector, and therefore improve their technology just as the other 23 countries can. Therefore, it is up to South Africa especially t share this knowledge with farmers in other African countries, but in particular, Tanzania, so that Tanzanian farmers can advance agriculture just as South Africa has, if this deems to be the best route to take.

NGO Opposition to GM Crops

Genetically modified crops have been opposed for several years by non-governmental organizations. Because they are not for profit, they have gained more social trust, and so people listen to them. Much of the NGO opposition has been from European-based organizations such as Greenpeace International, and Friends of the Earth International. Many U.S. and Canadian based organizations have also joined these organizations in the anti-GMO campaign. Notice, these are all rich countries, who have the influence over poorer countries. This kind of influence is harmful to countries that do not have the research or experience with GMOs such as Tanzania. People from Europe and North America would obviously not be attracted to GMOS because farming is already very productive. As many as 60 percent of all people are poor farmers could benefit from this technology. Farmers in poor countries rely almost entirely on food crops, not on crops for animal feed or industrial use like the U.S., so today’s ban on GMO foods is specifically damaging to those poor farmers. It becomes more shameful still when anti-GMO campaigners from rich countries intentionally hide from developing country citizens the published conclusions of their own national science academies back home, which continue to show that no convincing evidence has yet been found of new risks to human health or the environment from this technology.

Therefore, if GMOs were to be implemented in Tanzania, farmers would have to be trained and taught of the many benefits of GMOs. This training should be provided by the organizations that are providing the GMO seeds such as Monsanto. Without this training, GMOs crops could fail just like other methods, because of lack of knowledge and maintenance.

Importance of Seed-Saving

More than 90% of seeds sown in by farmers are saved on their own farms. Saving and exhanging seeds is important to Tanzanian farmers, and farmers in general for several reasons. According to the Permaculture Research Institute, saving seeds is important because big corporations that farmers buy from are only interested in the most profitable hybrids and ‘species’ of plants. Therefore, it decreases the biodiversity by condensing the market and discontinuing many crop varieties. When farmers save seeds with good genes and strong traits, the likely hood of better quality and the crops’ ability to adapt to its environment increases. Over generations, the crops will develop stronger resistance to pests as well. However, if GMO seeds provided by Monsanto were the sole practice in Tanzania, farmers could not save or exchange their seesd. As explained on the Monsanto website, “When farmers purchase a patented seed variety, they sign an agreement that they will not save and replant seeds produced from the seed they buy from us.” Therefore, unless USAID, the Bill and Melinda Foundation, and other organizations plan to support the costs of buying seeds on a regular basis, farmers will not be able to maintain their farms if they cannot afford to buy GMO seeds. Tanzanian farmers would be put at risk if this system was implemented without any financial support, and if they were to save or replant seeds, they have a chance of going to trial. Seeds, however, are so important to Tanzanians. Joseph Hella, a Professor from Sokoine University of Agriculture in Morogoro, Tanzania, in a documentary called Seeds of Freedom in Tanzania, insisted that “any effort to improve farming in Tanzania depends primarily on how we can improve farmers’ own indigenous seeds.” The practice of GMO crops does not take this into account. Janet Maro, director of Sustainable Agriculture Tanzania, said “These seeds are our inheritance, and we will pass them on to our children and grandchildren. These too are quality seed and a pride for Tanzania. But the law does not protect these seeds.”

However, if the drought tolerant white maize trial works, WEMA claims that farmers can choose to save the seeds for replanting. But as with all hybrid maize seed, maize production is heavily reduced with replanting of the harvested grain. Also, in order to make the improved seeds affordable, the new varieties will be licensed to the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), and distributed through local see suppliers on a royalty-free basis. According to Oliver Balch, freelance writer specialising in the role of business in society, if companies like Monsanto end up monopolizing the seed industry, African farmers fear becoming locked into cycles of financial obligation and losing control over local systems of food production. This is because unlike traditional seeds, new drought-tolerant seeds have to be purchased annually.

Lack of accessibility

The biggest problem Tanzania faces with adapting to drought-tolerant GM seeds is unavailibility and unaffordability. According to a study, Drought tolerant maize for farmer adaptation to drought in sub-Saharan Africa: Determinants of adoption in eastern and southern Africa, six African countries were studied to discuss the different setbacks to using drought-tolerant seeds.On a figure that represented these setbacks, seed availibility and seed price was the biggest concerns for Tanzanian small-holder farmers. High seed price was a commonly mentioned constraint in Malawi, Tanzania, and Uganda. Because many Tanzanian and Malawian farmers grow local maize, the switch to DT maize would entail a substantial increase in seed cost. Another observation in the study was that compared to younger people, older households were more likely to grow local maize which could reflect the unwillingness of older farmers to give up familiar production practices. Households with more educated people were more likely to grow DT maize and less likely to grow local maize, which justifies the point that general education and education on GM crops should be the primary goal before implementing any method in Tanzania. For example, some Tanzanian farmers were unwilling to try DT maize varieties as they were perceived as low yielding, late maturing and labor increasing. Educated people are more likely to process information about new technologies more quickly and effectively.

According to the study, there are a few things that need to be implemented if DT maize is to thrive. The seed supply to local markets must be adequate to allow farmers to buy, experiment with, and learn about DT maize. Second, to make seed more accessible to farmers with limited cash or credit (another major barrier), seed companies and agro-dealers should consider selling DT maize seed in affordable micro-packs. Finally, enhanced adoption depends on enhanced awareness, which could be achieved through demonstration plots, field days, and distribution of print and electronic promotional materials.

According to the Third World Network and African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB), the Wema project is set out to shift the focus and ownership of maize breeding, seed production and marketing almost exclusively into the private sector, in the process, forces small-scale farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa into the adoption of hybrid maize varieties and their accompanying synthetic fertilizers. Gareth Jones, ACB’s senior researcher says that Monsanto and the the rest of the biotechnology industry are using this largely unproven technology to weaken biosafety legislation on the continent and expose Africa to GM crops generally. With Tanzania’s unpredictable weather and seeds being incapable of growing without certain conditions like fertilizers, purchasing seeds annually becomes more of a burden and reduces farmers’ flexibility regarding their farming decisions. Also, Gareth Jones says the costly imputs and the very diverse agro-ecological systems in Sub-Saharan Africa mean the the WEMA project will only benefit a select amount of small-scale farmers, with evidently no consideration to the majority who will be abandoned. Again, the argument of seed costs and the monopoly of big seed companies comes up again as Jones also notes that the costs and technical requirements of hybrid seed production are presently also beyond the reach of most African seed companies and a focus on this market will inevitably lead to industry concentration, as has happened elsewhere, enabling the big multinational agro chemical seed companies to dominate.

Lack of progress in drought-tolerance

The United States is an example to take into consideration when evaluating GM crops, because after more than 17 years of field trials, only one GM drought-tolerant maize has been released. In fact, according to Gareth Jones, independent analysis has shown, under moderate drought conditions, the particular maize variety that has been reliaed only increased maize productivity by 1% annually, which is equivalent to improvements gained in conventional maize breeding.

Monsanto’s petition to the USDA cites results from two growing seasons of field trials in several locations in the United States and Chile that faced varying levels of water availibity. Company scientists measured drought through the amount of moisture in soil, and compared the crop’s growth response with that of conventional commercial varieties of corn grown in regions where the tests were performed. Monsanto reported a reduction in losses expected under moderate drought of about 6 percent, compared with non-GE commercial corn varieties, although there was considerable variability in these results. That means that farmers using Monsanto’s cspB corn could see a 10 percent loss of yield rather than a typical 15 percent loss under modern drought- or an increase of about 8 bushels per acre, based on a typical 160-bushel non-drought yield. However Monsanto’s cspB corn, the USDA asserts that it is effective primarily under moderate, not severe, drought conditions so there is no real benefit under extreme drought conditions. Because the cspB corn isn’t beneficial under severe drought conditions, farmers This would not be effective in semi-arid regions in Tanzania, like the Dodoma region that is drought-strickened.

Former Environmental Secretary Owen Paterson accused the EU and Greenpeace of condemning millions of people in developing countries to starvation and death by their stubborn refusal to accept the benefits of genetically modified crops. In response to this, Esther Bett, a farmer from Eldoret in Kenya, said last week: \”It seems that farmers in America can only make a living from GM crops if they have big farms, covering hundreds of hectares, and lots of machinery. But we can feed hundreds of families off the same area of land using our own seed and techniques, and many different crops. Our model is clearly more efficient and productive. Mr Paterson is wrong to pretend that these GM crops will help us at all.\” Million Belay, coordinator of the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa, highlights that “Paterson refers to the use of GM cotton in India. But he fails to mention that GM cotton has been widely blamed for an epidemic of suicides among Indian farmers, plunged into debt from high seed and pesticide costs, and failing crops.”

He also declared that,

“The only way to ensure real food security is to support farmers to revive their seed diversity and healthy soil ecology.”

Legume Biological Nitrogen Fixation vs. Nitrogen Fertilizers

The sustainable practice of intercropping nitrogen- fixing legumes with cash and food crops comes with both pros and cons. For farmers who cannot afford nitrogen fertilizer, biological nitrogen fixation (BNF) is could be a key solution to sourcing nitrogen for crops. BNF can be a major source of nitrogen in agriculture when symbiotic N2- fixing systems are used, but the nitrogen contributions from nonsymbiotic microorganisms are relatively minor, and therefore requires nitrogen fertilizer supplementation. The amount of nitrogen input is reported to be as high as 360 kg N ha-1. Legumes serve many purposes including being primary sources of food, fuel , and fertilizer, or to enrich soil, preserve moisture and prevent soil erosion. According to a study, Biological nitrogen fixation and socioeconomic factors for legume production in sub-Saharan Africa: a review, that reviews past and on-going interventions in Rhizobium inoculation in the farming systems of Sub-Saharan Africa, the high cost of fertilizers in Africa and the limited market infrastructure for farm inputs, current research and extension efforts have been directed to integrated nutrient management, in which legumes play a crucial role. Research on use of Rhizobium inoculants for production of grain legumes showed it is a cheaper and usually more effective agronomic practice for ensuring adequate N nutrition of legumes, compared with the application of N fertilizer.

Tanzania’s total fertilizer consumption was less than 9 kilograms (kg) of fertilizer nutrient per hectare of arable lands in 2009/10, compared with Malawi\’s 27 kilogrammes and 53 kilogrammes in South Africa and that represented a substantial increase from the average 5.5 kg/ha that was used four years ago. 82 percent of Tanzanian farmers do not use fertilizer mainly because they lack knowledge of its benefits, rising cost of fertilizer, and not knowing how to go about accessing credit facilities. Although commercial banks in the country claim that they support agriculture, many farmers continue to face hurdles in readily accessing financing for agricultural activities, including purchasing fertilizer. The lack of high-yield seed varieties and level of fertilizer use of either traditional or improved seeds is a major contributor to low productivity in Tanzania and thus the wide gap between potential yields and observed yields.

Many will believe that nitrogen fertilizers are mostly responsible for eutrophication and the threatening of fish species. However, according to Robert Howarth, a biogeochemist, ecosystem scientist, active research scientist and professor at Cornell Univesersity, says that the real perpetrators of this in countries like Tanzania are the insufficient treatement of water from industries, erosion in infrastructure construction, runoff of feed and food waste from both municipal and industrial areas, atmospheric nitrogen deposition and nutrient leaching. In fact, in Tanzania, the average nitrogen balance in Tanzania in 2000 was as low as -32 Kg N ha-1 yr-1. This amount was similar to many other Sub-Saharan countries.

However, if Tanzania is to continue using nitrogen fertilizers, the nitrogen agronomic use efficiency needs to be improved. Nitrogen agronomic use efficiency is defined as the yield gain per unit amount of nitrogen applied, when plots with and without nitrogen are compared.** Right now smallholder farmers fields are still low because of poor agronomic practices, including blanket fertilizer recommendations, too low fertilizer application rates to result in significant effect and unbalanced fertilization.Recent interventions in Sub-Saharan Africa, including fertility management showed that nitrogen agronomic use efficiency could be doubled when good agronomic practices are adopted.The dilemma in SSA, including Tanzania, farming is mainly practiced by resource-disadvantaged smallholder farmers who cannot afford most of the inputs at the actual market prices.

In a study called Narrowing Maize Yield Gaps Under Rain-fed conditions in Tanzania: Effect of Small Nitrogen Dose, the authors evaluated the potential of the use of small amount of nitrogen fertilizer as a measure to reduce maize yield gap under rain fed conditions.From the experiment, it was observed that grain yields were similar in all water stressed treatments regardless of nitrogen dose, suggesting that water stress imposed after critical growth stage has no significant effect on final grain yield. The explanation they came up with is that within 45-50 days after sowing, the plant should have accumulated the required biomass for grain formation and filling, and water stress occuring afterwards has no effect on yield. For resource poor farmers, low doses of nitrogen fertilizer applied after crop establishment may make a substantial contribution to the food security over non-fertilized crop production. This approach can work well in environments with low seasonal rains because yield gain is higher than when high nitrogen quantities are applied in water scarce environment. In the study’s conclusion, it highlights that there is a limitation as the yield gap narrowing strategy was evaluated at a plot scale. Further study is needed to investigate the necessary response of small nitrogen doses as a strategy in bridging the maize yield gaps in multiple fields and many seasons especially under farmer’s management.

Conclusion:

To increase agricultural productivity, there are many factors to consider, drought-tolerance is just one of them. Semi-arid regions in Tanzania pose a serious problem for agriculture that depends on rainfall, however drought- tolerant GM crops could be a possibility, however a lot of work still needs to be done. Implementing these drought-tolerant seed varieties can only be a solution if:

The WEMA project for GM white maize is successful

Companies like Monsanto are willing to either allow farmers to save and exchange seeds without penalty OR are willing to as the WEMA project claims continuously supply these seed varieties as requested by farmers. This ensures that farmers are given the flexibility to control their crop production.

Scientists perform a study that is transferable from one area to another, in terms of the different agronomic and environmental choices that is necessary to either implement either an increase in fertilizer use or legume biological nitrogen fixation.

Farmers are educated and receptive of GM technology, nitrogen fertilizer and legume biological nitrogen fixation. This includes the effectiveness and efficiency of all three systems.

Commercial banks, the government, donors are willing to sponsor the increase in fertilizer use or subsidize the costs.

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