OPINION: Tapping huge horticultural potential

Tuesday September 8 2020

Kasera Nick Oyoo is a research and

Kasera Nick Oyoo is a research and communications consultant with Midas Touché East Africa 

By Kasera Nick Oyoo

Last Monday, I had the good fortune of catching up with Jacqueline Mkindi on the China Global Television Network (CGTN).
Ms Mkindi has been the Chief Executive Officer of the Tanzania Horticulture Association (Taha) since January 2006 – and has been at the heart of transforming the country’s horticulture, which has gained pace in recent years.
We are told that, as an agricultural sub-sector, horticulture has grown relatively phenomenally under Ms Mkindi, from contributing $60,000 to Tanzania’s economy 15 years ago to $779 million last year.
If these figures are correct – and I have no reason to doubt their veracity – then Ms Mkindi truly deserves a national award for squarely being behind this exponential growth.
Yet, challenges still exist. For example, while Tanzania does have more arable land (13.5 million hectares) than, say, Kenya next-door (5.8 million hectares), the latter on average nets more for the national economy from its horticulture than Tanzania.
So, what is holding back Tanzania’s horticulture – and how can this be effectively addressed?
This is a matter for concern – if only because 68 percent of Tanzania’s work force engages in farming. However, 83 percent of all holdings are run by small family farmers who dominate the agricultural sector by contributing around 75 percent of the total agricultural output.
Ms Mkindi’s strategic presentation in 2011 set a target of $1 billion revenues from horticultural exports in the next three-to-five years. [See ‘Tanzania: Nation eyes US$1 billion from Horticulture’ by Doreen David;  /allafrica.com/stories/201202070367.html>].
Well, last year’s earnings topped $779 million: not too bad, considering the appertaining circumstances.
As the fastest-growing agricultural sub-sector, horticulture in Tanzania needs all the support and bolstering it can get from both the public and private sectors so as to fully tap its potential for all-inclusive, sustainable socioeconomic development.
The Southern Highlands regions of Njombe, Iringa, Mbeya and Songwe are the ‘new found lands’ for horticultural production – and these can help steer the subsector to greater heights.
Most commendably, Ms Mkindi and her umbrella private sector organisation, Taha Group have already achieved some remarkable milestones.
The removal of barriers that included the lack of quality standards certification and pack yard hangar areas at the Julius Nyerere International Airport in Dar es Salaam and the Kilimanjaro International Airport have made it possible now for fresh flowers, vegetables and fruits to be packed and air-freighted directly to export markets.
Until recently, Tanzanian fresh produce played second fiddle to Kenyan produce because of lack of such facilities.
Yet another area that has made head ways is the training of staff.
Also, it was difficult to meet market expectations in terms of quality and quantities partly because Tanzania ns did not have enough skills and expertise in the horticultural value-chain.
Production processes from soil and farm management to seed quality, harvesting and handling/storage/packaging determine product quality.
It is, therefore, important that ongoing capacity building continues, aided by both the private and public sectors.
Another major hurdle to accelerated horticultural growth is the multiplicity of taxes and double taxation, compounded by inordinately high rates.
Hence the call to revisit the country’s extant taxation regime soonest.
While the government has an important role to play, the private sector is also well-placed to bring about success in horticulture. Therefore, the government must fully engage with the private sector from the farming level and all the way to the retail shelf.
What some minions in government do not seem to understand is that everything they do with their revenue collection regimes affects how the sector delivers on its bigger mandate.
As Ms Mkindi said in her interview with the China Global Television Network: the future of Tanzanian horticulture is one big – but as yet unwritten – story…
What we all need is to be as driven as Jacqueline Mkindi and the Taha Group are. That would most certainly pay dividends.