Agriculture still most effective road in addressing poverty

Sunday April 28 2019


The challenges of rural poverty and underdevelopment in Tanzania and Africa at large cannot be ignored.

The citizens, academia, political leaders over the years have been grappling with the question of how to make development benefit, be seen and felt, by the majority population.

It is not surprising.REPOA’s 24th annual research workshop held in April 2019 theme was “Local Economic Development: Unpacking potentials for accelerated transformation of Tanzania”.

In opening the workshop, a simple but very powerful statement was made by Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan. Her words per verbatim: Maendeleo yenye afya na endelevu ni yale yanayomlenga kila mwananchi, kama alivyo ainisha muasisi wa taifa letu, Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere, maendeleo ni watu.”

Kiswahili is one of the sweetest languages on earth and often in translating words sometimes some of the inclinations of the meaning are lost. I am trying to translate Mama Samia’s words into English, and not sure If I’m able to capture the ‘life’ of what she meant “A healthy and sustainable development is the one that is targeting every citizen, as espoused by our founding father of the nation, Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere, development is people.” In Mwalimu Nyerere’s words, people-centred development was the key to unlocking Tanzania’s social and economic greatness.

Although his words were spoken in the 1970s, but today stand true, as then. Addressing Food and Agricultural Organisation World Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development, Rome, 13th July, 1979, he said: “For the root of world poverty, as well as the mass of it, lies in the rural areas.” He could as well have been addressing 2019 Repoa’s conference, where Samia Suluhu Hassan emphasized that development should not leave citizens behind.

In Tanzania’s setting, the majority of the populace live in rural areas. Thus development that touches the majority should be focused on rural areas. A paper presented by Hanne Van Cappellen and Joachim De Weerdt, titled “Rural labour productivity and urbanisation in Sub-Saharan Africa” clearly stated that despite high rural to urban migration, the majority of Africa’s poor live in rural areas. And they are predominantly employed in agriculture.

Their message to policymakers across Africa was that if they really want to reduce poverty, the best way is to focus on agricultural development in rural areas.

In this focus, they also argue, agriculture labourers have an excess of labour hours which can be absorbed by demands inside/outside the sector. Thus, it is paramount to have policy strategies for rural entrepreneurship for rural development. Back again to Mwalimu Nyerere, at the Rome’s meeting, he made a clear cut message that “If poverty is to be abolished in the rural areas, farming activities must be efficient.” According to him, the answer to that was the establishment of rural industries “to process the farmers’ crops.” Again, he was right all the way.

It is projected post-harvest loss in Africa sometimes is as high as over 40 per cent. Why? Poor handling and lack of storage facilities is the cause.

Take the case of fruits, why can’t we have many fruits processing plants across the country and become the number 1 juice exporter in Africa? So much of our fruits go to waste during the harvesting season.

Tanzania is the maize largest producer in East Africa. Do we have to export raw maize? Why can’t it be processed and we sell flour and other by-products including starch, so that farmers can get more value out of their hard work?

In rural areas, many farmers today are members of one farmer organization or the other.

Methinks policies to capacitated such organize can do wonders. For example, if 1000 smallholder maize farmers come together and supported financially, put up a warehouse and processing plant, it creates a formidable business unit.

Saumu Jumanne is an Assistant Lecturer, Dar es Salaam University College of Education (DUCE)