Need for basic crop pest and livestock disease vector research at SUA
Pest infestation is one of the major constraints to increased agricultural, and forestry production in Tanzania. Insect pests are also vectors of several human and animal disease agents which cause a lot of suffering, reduced productivity and mortality.
Attempts to modernize agriculture in Tanzania, have brought about major changes in agronomic practices, crop cultivars and varieties. This variety of crops, coupled with Tanzania?s broad range of climate allows a wide range of pests and an equally wide range of pest related problems to persist. Although many common crop pests have been properly identified, relatively little is known about the biology, ecology, population interactions, or how to manage the majority of these pests.
For many years, the Ministry responsible for Agriculture and Livestock has developed research facilities to accommodate basic studies on various aspects of crop production. However, many of these studies have concentrated on agronomy and plant breeding, at the expense of pest biology, ecology and management. This is presumably because at some stage in the past, agronomy and breeding were considered more crucial to increased production towards national food security. A much similar situation is found in the livestock sector. In forestry, tree improvement programms have identified potential trees for different ecosystems. Furthermore, proverance, progency, and seed overheads have been established for the major forest plantation trees in order to improve yield and quality, while less attention has been given to forestry pest biology and management.
Increasing susceptibility of crop variants to pests, and emergence of new pests
Improved crop varieties are relatively more prone to infestation by pests due to altered genetic constitution. At the same time there is a continuous development through natural selection of pest biotypes with a higher ability to attack and damage the improved crop. Knowledge and technology in crop pest management in Tanzania has lagged behind. Today, there are fewer experts in crop pest management, compared to breeding and agronomy. There are even fewer specialized centres in Tanzania that are carrying out research on emerging crop pests because most of the crop-pest research institutions under the MALDC and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, have either closed, or are facing serious under-funding.
One area that has remained grossly under-developed is the research on weeds. Apart from taxonomic knowledge on weeds, no strong initiatives exist, at SUA or elsewhere in Tanzania, to study weed suppression by appropriate biological or chemical means. There is a big demand for research in this area, which could be developed under the
Over-dependence on foreign technology
Tanzania has been far too dependent on developed countries for technology in pest management. Through the establishment of strong pest research programmes at SUA, adequately prepared expertise would be developed, which in turn would increase national self reliance by developing appropriate and affordable technologies in pest management.
Alternative and unexplored research areas
Through the SPMC, research into alternative ways of pest management shall be strengthened. For example, the use of biological methods for pest management needs a special emphasis due to the increase in environmental pollution resulting from massive application of synthetic pesticides. Equally important, but grossly overlooked, is research on what are collectively referred to as nuisance pests, but which may play a passive role in the transmission of agents of disease to plants and animals. Flies, cockroaches and other domestic pests or similar arthropods fall into this category of pests. This open field could also be explored through research under the SPMC. Exploration into positive utilization of pests or arthropods e.g. as biodetectors, or indicators of environmental pollutants or as indicators of land degradation due to agricultural use or even as feed supplements would be of major interest at SPMC.