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"I missed this energy. It was nice to be back."
The first month of my internship with MEDA has served as a great reminder of the vast contrasts the world contains.
In 2012, I immigrated from Kenya to Canada, and for the past six years, I have called Canada home. These years have been filled with wonderful experiences and I quickly became accustomed to the “Western lifestyle”.
Here in Mwanza, Tanzania I am reminded of my childhood. The atmosphere is very different than I am accustomed to – even as a child of Nairobi. The drive from the airport to my residence was a trip down memory lane as I watched the boda-bodas (motorcycles used to transport people and goods) weave through traffic. As I whizzed through Mwanza in the night, I saw street-sellers hawking their wares. I reflected on how entrepreneurship is interwoven into the very fabric of all societies around the world. The hustle of entrepreneurs in cities like Mwanza make the world turn.
The next morning, I stepped out of my residence and was immediately awed by the sheer beauty and magnificence illustrated before me. Mwanza, nicknamed Rock City, is located on the shores of Lake Victoria. Named for the multiple rock formations on the hills surrounding the city, one could easily see why the nickname stuck.I realized I missed this energy. It was nice to be back.
Bismarck Rock is the most famous rock formation and is named after the German Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck whose statue was once erected on these rocks before the British removed it after World War I.
Mwanza is a truly scenic city and I could continue describing the city in detail, but I’m not here for tourism purposes - I am here to join MEDA’s team working on a solution to a complex economic problem facing cassava farmers in Tanzania.
The aim of the BEST Cassava project is to build economically sustainable seed systems for cassava in Tanzania.
Cassava is a vital crop for many farmers in Tanzania. Cassava has shifted in status from being merely a survival crop, to a commercial crop generating an economically sustainable livelihood for farmers which is increasingly crucial to the agricultural transformation of Tanzania.
Unfortunately, many cassava farmers experience low productivity due to the use of low-yielding cassava varieties, poor agricultural practices and outbreaks of viral diseases which infest and destroy cassava crops over large areas.
What you might not know, is that cassava isn’t grown from seed. Rather, it is grown from part of the stem which is called a cutting. This stem is then planted and reproduced.
Unfortunately, many cassava crops are vulnerable to disease. The two most common diseases affecting farmers are the cassava mosaic geminiviruses (CMGs) and cassava brown streak viruses (CBSVs).
BEST Cassava is looking to remedy this problem by providing farmers access to a consistent supply of quality cassava stems that are more productive in their yields as well as disease-resistant.
With these improved cassava varieties, the loss in productivity is mitigated if farmers employ the correct farming practices, and if climatic and market conditions are favorable.
The first month of my internship consisted of an introduction to the project and the Lake Zone team as well as a detailed explanation of my role and goals as the Marketing and Communications Intern for the following 5 months.
Even though I am new to the team, I have managed to partake in some of the project activities including the Nane-nane show in Mwanza. Nane-nane (eight-eight) is a Tanzanian national holiday that occurs every 8th of August (08/08) – hence, the name. This week-long celebration of Tanzania’s agricultural industry raises awareness of agri-businesses and their produce. During this week, farmers and other interested parties share information and celebrate the agricultural successes of the country.
The BEST Cassava team used this week as an opportunity to market the project and its intended goals to potential cassava seed entrepreneurs (CSEs) and farmers. Using face-to-face conversations, pamphlets and demonstration plots, the BEST Cassava team (which included current CSEs) aimed to increase the uptake of improved cassava varieties as well as educating farmers on best practices in cassava farming.
In addition to the Nane-nane exposition, I had the great opportunity to visit a project site in the Pwani Region in the Eastern Zone of Tanzania. The aim of the trip was to gain a better understanding of the project’s operations in the field.
The Cassva seed system operated in four levels:
2. Basic CSEs
3. Commercial CSEs and,
4. Quality Declared Planting Material (QDPM)
These four levels create a mechanism through which the improved cassava varieties can be distributed from the lab to the end-market - in this case: farmers, processors, institutions etc.
Below is a flow chart summarizing the distribution of the improved cassava varieties from the initial Pre-Basic level to the final QDPM level after the discover and germination of quality cassava tissue culture (TC) and varieties at the laboratories and screenhouses.
This system also includes requirements at each level which must be met by current and potential CSEs for them to remain in (and qualify for) the program. Routine inspections of CSE plantations are conducted by Tanzania Official Seed Certification Institute (TOSCI) and upon passing these inspections, the CSE’s plants are certified by TOSCI.
With my growing understanding of this project, I am excited to begin sharing the stories of those impacted by it. My next steps at BEST Cassava will be to interview some of our clients and share their stories. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to learn about this project and documenting my experience to share with you.
Davies Nyachieng’a is currently interning with the BEST Cassava project in Tanzania. Davies was born in Kenya and grew up there before moving to Canada in 2012 for further studies. While in Canada, he completed his B.A and M.A in Economics at the University of Guelph with the aim of applying the knowledge and skills attained from his education to the development context. Learn more about him here.