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How Tanzania plans to curb sugar, wheat, cooking oil shortages

Saturday June 12 2021
Sugar pic

Agriculture minister Adolf Mkenda gestures as he responds to questions by Mwananchi Communications Limited journalists during an exclusive interview which was held at his office in Dodoma early this month. PHOTO | EDWIN MJWAHUZI

By Louis Kalumbia

Shortly after tabling the 2021/22 ministerial budget in Parliament, Agriculture minister Adolf Mkenda granted an exclusive interview to Mwananchi Communications Ltd (MCL) journalists during which he expounded on government measures to increase the production of sugar, wheat and cooking oil which currently constitute a large part of imports. THE CITIZEN reporter LOUIS KOLUMBIA shares excerpts from the interview. Read on...


QUESTION: How does the government plan to increase domestic sugar production?

ANSWER: Local sugar producing companies - Kilombero, Mtibwa, TPC and Kagera Sugar - signed expansion contracts with the government during privatization. Unfortunately, only TPC has expanded its production capacity, while the other firms haven’t, hence denying sugarcane outgrowers a reliable market for their produce.

As a result, 350,000 tonnes of sugarcane are destroyed annually - an amount which could be used to produce about 35,000 tonnes of sugar, thus significantly reducing the sugar deficit.

Before 2015, the country experienced arbitrary granting of sugar import permits, leading to the resignation of a cabinet minister over the matter.

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The measures include allowing domestic producers to import the deficit at an equal amount leading to the recent reduction of the importation from 120,000 tonnes to 40,000 tonnes.

However, the Agriculture ministry is considering taking the importation role from actual sugar producers and assign it to the Sugar Board of Tanzania (SBT). This will be done by amending the law.

Sugar importation permits are increasingly high. This year 50,000 tonnes of sugar have already been imported, while only 40,000 tonnes were required to close the gap when domestic factories suspend production between March and May for maintenance.

But, following political pressure I exerted over the Kilombero Sugar Company, the firm has concluded its talks with the Treasury for expansion of the factory, making it a major sugar producing company in the country.

The only commitment the government can give is that we are going to strictly continue to control sugar importation in the country to protect domestic producers.

We will work within the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) and East African Community (EAC) because Uganda and Malawi are the main importers within the regions.

Besides, the NSSF Mkulazi Sugar Company and Bakhresa’s Bagamoyo sugar companies are expected to add 50,000 tonnes and 30,000 tonnes of the produce respectively to local production.

The move will close the 40,000 gap and make the country start exporting the merchandise. Therefore, despite existing pressure and profit on sugar importation, the government’s strategy will be to continue restricting arbitrary sugar importation.

Through restrictions, we are supposed to ask ourselves what we actually want as a country because we are frustrating our farmers, who decide to set fire to their farms, while others are considering exporting sugarcane to neighbouring countries.

However, I humbly commend the Kilombero Sugar and Bakhresa companies for their plans to expand production by investing more in the sector.


Q: What measures is the government taking to increase wheat production, cut wheat imports and, instead, spend the saved forex on implementing socioeconomic development projects?

A: The country produces 77,000 tonnes of wheat, but experts suggest that 300,000 tonnes could be produced annually.

However, after agreeing with traders that wheat will be sold at Sh850 per kilo, production trend has significantly increased.

The agreement means that traders importing 40 percent of wheat will be required to procure the same amount of locally-produced merchandise, likewise for importers of 10 percent etc.

Also, the Ministry of Finance and Planning has amended its wheat importation instrument used by East African countries allowing wheat importers to bring into the country any quantity of the produce provided they procure domestically produced products.

Regarding barley used for scouted malt used for production of malted beer, Tanzania Breweries Ltd is purchasing 5,000 tonnes of barley domestically.

However, the company is planning to build a plant in Dodoma with a 35,000 tonnes processing capacity after sorting out its tax challenges.

Once the project is concluded, domestic-scouted malt will be cheaper compared with malt imports - and this is bound to reduce prices of beer and increase consumption; hence more revenue for the government.


Q: How is the government prepared to address increasing demand for cooking oil amidst declining local production?

A: The government has chosen Singida, Dodoma and Simiyu regions, which are major producers of sunflower and cotton whose seeds are used in the production of cooking oil, for involvement in the pilot project.

The budget for extension services has been increased from Sh603 million to Sh11.5 billion in order to strengthen their activities during which 1,500 motorbikes will be purchased and distributed to agricultural extension officers.

They will also be provided by soil kits and smartphones for close monitoring by government officers at the national and grassroots levels.

Plans are afoot to procure and distribute quality seeds to farmers who will sign contracts with cooking oil processing firms, therefore engaging in cultivation while with the confidence on availability of the market.

In collaboration with stakeholders including the International Fund for Agricultural Development (Ifad), the government is considering forming a revolving fund that will enable the farmers to get agricultural inputs on time.

It is shameful for the country to import 53 percent of its cooking oil needs while it has arable land and other positives needed to make it self-sufficient in such essentials.


Cashews

We have understood the significance of agricultural inputs to production efficiency of cashewnuts. Therefore, I will not go into details, but provision of enough agricultural inputs will be emphasized in the coming agricultural seasons.


Cooperatives

We will continue embracing cooperatives while addressing the challenges they are facing including taking measures against embezzlers.

The lack of enough expertise in the sub-sector was another challenge we are facing despite efforts to clean the rot in the cooperatives.

I have declared to put the subsector under observation with several measures extended to some regional cooperative assistant executives.

I’ve recalled the assistant registrar in Lindi Region and directed him to file a comprehensive explanation in the efforts of preventing people from running cooperatives like government entities.

We are obliged to increase citizens’ trusts on cooperatives; with plans in place to involve cooperatives stakeholders countrywide in provision of opinions on areas that have to be reviewed.

However, there are some cooperatives that are doing well including the one in Kahama that has reached to a point of buying and distributing agricultural inputs to farmers.

Farmers are also paid additional payments and crops have been sold, something that has attracted growers from neighbouring regions to trade with the cooperative. Agricultural Marketing Cooperative Society (Amcos) in Rombo is also providing an exclusive job, therefore instead of considering abolishing cooperatives, we need to address the challenges they are facing including Kangomba.

Amcos could be advised to have the Savings and Credit Cooperatives Societies (Saccos) that will resolve farmers’ financial challenges when they face economic and social challenges such as taking patients to hospitals and children to school.


Warehouse Receipt System (WRS)

The government through the minister of Agriculture will effectively be responsible for announcing crops to be sold via the Warehouse Receipt System (WRS).

Authorities that would like crops grown in their areas of jurisdiction to be traded through the WRS will be required to consult the ministry of Agriculture.

The system will be improved so that together with the Tanzania Mercantile Exchange Plc (TMX) farmers should be confident with the two.


Q: What is your take on your picture that went viral on social media as you kissed your wife shortly before tabling the 2021/22 budget?

A: She is my wife. We normally kiss eachother. On that day, she took the trouble to travel to Parliament in Dodoma to support her husband in tabling my first budget in Parliament as Agriculture minister.

Yes, I just kissed her - although that isn’t the type of publicity I would like to get because publicly showing one’s emotions is not in the true African tradition.

Also, there were many serious issues related to the agricultural sector that had to be discussed.

In any case, I was not aware that someone was taking photogrraphs of me at the time!

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