Vegetable breeding company Rijk Zwaan has introduced its first hybrid varieties for African aubergines.
According to the company, these varieties have numerous advantages over those that are traditionally grown in Africa, and will enable farmers to generate a better income for themselves.
Rijk Zwaan’s first African eggplant varieties are Kazinga RZ, Kerio RZ and Limpopo RZ, which are named after African rivers to symbolise the lifeblood of the continent.
The varieties have been successfully tested over the past two years while the company prepared for full-scale production. The three varieties were presented to farmers during a Rijk Zwaan’s field day in January, while at the same event visitors could see Afrisem’s first commercial determinate tomato hybrid as well as a number of promising varieties of chinense pepper.
The group spent almost ten years working on the development of these new varieties and is now selling the first seeds on a commercial basis.
Typical African vegetables – like African aubergines and African kale – are traditionally cultivated from saved seeds or from open pollinated varieties (OPVs), whereas these hybrid varieties are characterised by higher yields, uniformity, earliness and other favourable features needed further down in the market chain, such as firmness, shelf life and taste.
Rijk Zwaan noted that they also bring improved resistances to pests and diseases, which means that fewer pesticides have to be used and available farmland can be utilised more effectively.
The new aubergine varieties have been developed by Rijk Zwaan Afrisem, a breeding station in Arusha, Tanzania, where Rijk Zwaan started breeding in 2008.
The Afrisem breeding station also focuses on the development of hybrids for other African vegetable crops such as African kale, chinense pepper and determinate (or bush) tomatoes.
In addition to breeding local African crops, Rijk Zwaan also uses its station in Tanzania to evaluate its international assortment in terms of their suitability for cultivation in tropical Africa.
“In terms of investments in R&D and quality standards, we have the same approach as in other parts of the world,” says Rijk Zwaan business manager Edwin van der Klugt. “The focus on hybrids entails serious investments from growers, but the resistances, higher yield and better fruit quality will make it relatively easy for them to earn back these investments.”
To obtain the best results from their high-quality hybrid seeds, growers will have to combine them with the right growing techniques, tailored to local circumstances. That is why Rijk Zwaan has a demo station in Arusha and is building a team of crop advisors and product development specialists, specially for East and West Africa.
“Many of our activities are now centred around our station in Tanzania: from this ‘test market’ we want to get a ripple effect," he noted. "We strongly believe that a long-term approach will enable small-scale growers to play a key role in building a sustainable food supply in Africa for the continent’s growing and rapidly urbanising populations.”
Van der Klugt emphasised that it will not be possible for Rijk Zwaan alone to reach all farmers in Africa: “We need scale and local expertise. That’s why we actively seek collaboration with government bodies and local growers’ associations. Through public-private partnerships such as Amsterdam Initiative against Malnutrition (AIM) and Seeds of Expertise for the Vegetable Industry in Africa (SEVIA) we share our knowledge and expertise in long-term projects. Together with our partners, our goal is to transform subsistence farming in Africa into a market-oriented production system.”