Does Tanzania really need higher fertility rates in this day and age?

Saturday October 12 2019


Last year the president said that women should kick aside birth control and sent everyone on frenzy.

Was the reason for the outrage though, a fear that women would actually launch a reproductive marathon, or was it the contradictions in the statement?

To get some perspective, according to the national Five-Year Development Plan (FYDP) (2016-2021), Tanzania had fertility rates of 5.4, among the highest in the world.

The population was growing at 2.7 percent per annum, which is more than twice the global average (1.2 percent) and above the average in Africa (2.5 percent). It was projected that the population would double in 26 years. These statistics suggest quite the opposite of women ditching birth control.

Also, according to the FYDP, as of 2012, 28.2 percent of Tanzanians were below the basic-needs poverty line, and the target is to reduce that to 12.7 percent by 2021. Roughly, then, if we reach the 2021 target, we will still have more than all the people in Dar es Salaam living in extreme poverty.

Given Tanzania’s relatively young demographic, potentially half of those will be under the age of 25. Isn’t it more plausible then, to capacitate these people first than as Condorcet once said, “…foolishly encumber the world with useless and wretched beings.”?


China, India and Nigeria are global giants by population. Their economic prospects, especially that of China, may be tempting to believe that a huge population is the recipe – but it is not only about the quantity; quality too, is of paramount importance.

In fact, China went to a great length through the one-child-policy, and at a great cost, just to curb population growth. China’s fertility rate is currently at 1.6; India’s is 2.3, and that of Nigeria is 5.5.

Apart from the clear indications that Tanzania has more than enough people to prosper, and while the right question would be how to harness more manpower from the existing people - any statement to promote population growth is a clear case of contradiction with some of the commitments the country has made.

Firstly, Tanzania has ratified the Maputo Protocol - an African charter of women’s rights which states that women have the right to control their fertility and chose any method of contraception.

Secondly, the country’s health insurance system is only able to accommodate a maximum of four children from one family.

Thirdly, the current FYDP clearly states that the high population growth rates risk derailing development gains.

However, if at all there is strong desire to influence fertility rates, that can’t be achieved through ‘telling’. Research shows that low fertility rates are a result of progress of reasoning of the people, and of social and economic growth; such as female literacy and their participation in labour force.

People will reach a point where they will see small family sizes as the new norm. They “…will know that if they have a duty towards those who are not born yet, that duty is not to give them existence but to give them happiness.” - Condorcet. This is a process that cannot be countered by suggestions.

As goes one slogan, “development is the best contraceptive”. In that case, if despite all evidence, a compelling reason is still found to want to increase fertility rates, then, development has to stop and women have to be deeply deprived of freedom.

Therefore, given the difficulty and futility of increasing fertility rates by any means, the goal should steadfastly remain on improving quality of life, survival rates and longevity of existing people. For instance, some cases of children drowning could be prevented simply by fencing all open waters.

There is malaria. There is preventable road and marine accidents. Once every citizen gets their fair share of development outcomes, we can come back to see if we still need to increase the population.

Epiphania is a PhD Candidate in Development Policy and Management at the University of Manchester.”