SMEs digest: How Covid-19 impacted traders market access

A vegetable farmer at work at her garden. PHOTO | File

Arusha. Despite favourable rains, food security in Tanzania was compromised last year after the outbreak of Covid-19.

Farmers - both smallholders and commercial crop producers - could not access their traditional markets and key inputs.

The situation was compounded by the closure of borders with the neighbouring states, especially in the northern zone regions.

Even when the markets were there, farmers had to contend with low prices of their produce, observed a Committee report by the East African Legislative Assembly (Eala).

“The harvested crops failed to get to market or faced low prices from local buyers,” according to the report on “The Impact of Covid-19 Pandemic on Food Security in the EAC’.

The report by Eala’s Committee on Agriculture, Tourism and Natural Resources was released as the legislative organ of the East African Community (EAC) is bracing for a budget session.

It said the outbreak of the global pandemic disrupted farming activities, especially commercial agriculture, as it limited access to extension services.

“Some farms were left without weeding, reducing yields. Isolation due to restricted gatherings ultimately reduced the yields,” it said. The assessment was conducted in the northern, southern highlands and the Lake zone regions of Arusha, Songwe, Mbeya and Mara.

PELUM Tanzania, an advocacy NGO on ecological agriculture, cited increased prices of seeds as among the impacts of Covid-19 last year. This was so because the country imported over 50 percent of seeds from outside which would not be obtained as the borders were closed.

Incidentally, however, some farmers in Mbeya district Covid-19 was a blessing in disguise as they managed to sell their potatoes at much higher prices.

“They were able to sell one bag of potatoes for Sh 90,000 while before Covid-19 the price was Sh30,000”, said the report obtained by The Citizen. In order to circumvent such pandemics, the report urged the EAC partner states to devise mechanisms where farmers can access extension services digitally.

They should as well promote a farmer-based seed system so that in the event of a pandemic like Covid-19, farmers can still access quality seeds locally. In broader outlook, the report said different measures taken by the EAC states against Covid-19 caused confusion to the business people, disturbing the food supply chain in the region.

The closure of the Regional Food Balance Sheet and the Early Warning System projects at the EAC also contributed to the food insecurity problem in the region, it observed. Agriculture is a key economic sector in the EAC bloc, accounting for more than 32 per cent of the region’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and employing 80 per cent of the labour force. Early last year, at the height of Covid-19 fears in the region, the World Bank predicted a 2.6 to seven per cent fall in agricultural production in the region due to the impact of the pandemic.