Tanzania has a unique position for Agri trade in the region

Sunday September 12 2021
Agri pic

Porters carry sacks of maize at Nansio port in Ukerewe island. Tanzania is among the biggest producers of maize crop. A recent regional meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, acknowledged that Tanzania can indeed feed the whole of Africa. PHOTO | FILE

By Saumu Jumanne

Tanzania is East Africa’s food forte. That is how it was seen during the African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) 2021 Summit in Nairobi held between 7-10 September, which sought to highlight pathways to recovery and a resilient food systems.

Sadly, President Uhuru Kenyatta, who was hosting the summit, which promotes inclusive agriculture, had to declare drought in Kenya a national disaster. The declaration paved way for the treasury in East Africa’s largest economy, to make mitigation measures and assist over two million Kenyans severely affected by drought.

In Tanzania, only recently this year the government started buying maize (the main staple food in East Africa) from farmers because the precious commodities was produced in surplus and there was no adequate local market. What a contrast between the two neighbours!

Looking at the geographical characteristics, it should not be surprising that Kenya is drought-prone. It’s because of eco-climatic conditions, with a few seasons of high and regular rainfall.

Otherwise, Kenya is 80 percent arid and semi-arid! It has a total land area of 580,367 square kilometres and it’s the 48th largest country by total area in the world.

For Tanzania, it’s the 31st largest in the world with a land size of 947,303 square kilometres, with 40 percent being a semi-arid area. Geographically, we have an immense advantage in agriculture because even in our semi-arid areas, we have underground water to enable irrigation farming.

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Thanks for our unique geographical position, landmass and water bodies. Tanzania has many times been said it can feed Africa.

For years since the onset of Kilimo Kwanza, our nation has remained food sufficient. Yes, there are few areas suffering drought once in a while, but because the nation largely has more than adequate food provisions, they are always able to be shorted out.

As the world conversion on food moves to the making of resilient food systems, Tanzania needs to be at the forefront, to ensure that, as a nation, we are involved, and our smallholder farmers at the ground benefit from the food trade.

In Tanzania, potatoes are produced in different parts of the country like Tanga (Lushoto), Mbeya etc, and are used in Dar es Salaam and other urban areas to make chips. The potato value is higher in urban areas than in rural areas.

It’s true that we live in a capitalist world, wherein the food chains those who add values are the winners. Still, it’s paramount that policy makers should think of the farmers as one of the most significant parts of the population that needs economic empowerment.

There was a time most of the fruits from Tanzania would be exported raw, but now we have seen a number of juice making companies buying fruits from local farmers. We have seen a number of milk processing firms making strides. In the past, local shops were mostly selling milk imported from neighbouring nations.

My take is that we must up efforts in Agri-industrialization drive. When we have more agro-products factories, it means farmers can increase productivity and in essence make more money.

Mr Geoffrey Kirenga, the chief executive officer, at Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (Sagcot) in reference to AGRF summit was quoted saying that Tanzania is playing a major role in the regions food system as a major exporter of maize, rice, soya and other agriculture products.

Mr Geoffrey called on agricultural stakeholders in the country to increase productivity, add value and be very consistent.

That way, “nations sourcing agriculture produce and goods from Tanzania will gain confidence that we are reliable for the long term, and it’s not a one-off thing.”

No need to say, more, only to reiterate, our smallholder farmers, must be the main beneficiaries of food trade.