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Tanzania: The Painful Politics of Agriculture

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By Saumu Jumanne

When we come to the most important ministries in our country, I rank the ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries very high. Agriculture is the mother of all sectors, where over 75 per cent of Tanzania’s workforce is employed. By that fact alone, it makes the ministry very vital and I’m not sure if Members of Parliament and other political leaders have ever planned to give it the weight it deserves.

At the moment, agriculture accounts for 25 per cent of the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP), but I think if all imported food products were to be produced and processed locally, that per cent can rise up to 40 or even more.

All successive governments have maintained that “agriculture plays an important role in a Tanzania’s economy”, but after that, we have the vicious circle, where the majority of farmers live from hand to mouth. This is unfair!

We need to ask ourselves some hard questions. What do we gain as a nation, when milk from the Middle East and elsewhere dominates our market? Yet, we have the potential to produce the milk we need and export to the rest of Africa.

How come our policy environment, instead of being a catalyst of home grown milk industry, is a catalyst for imported milk?

What do we gain, when processed food products in local shops are mainly imports, while our farmers are demoralised because they can’t access markets? Some people will argue that some products from abroad are cheaper and they are of good quality, but I would like to look at it from the policy point of view. Some governments abroad have made sure they make laws and policies that enable their big and small farmers to thrive and penetrate into the world market! Why can’t we do the same?

Since 2009, Kilimo Kwanza has been there, but it has not officially been discarded despite the loud silence. Tresphory Mgeni and Yustin Bangi, researchers, in their paper published in the Journal of Economics and Sustainable Development in 2014, entitled “Kilimo Kwanza a Reliable Answer to The Paradox of Hunger in The Midst of Plenty in Tanzania? Challenges and Prospects of Kilimo Kwanza (Agriculture First) Strategy in Tanzania” makes a very interesting observation.

“We ask ourselves what Kilimo Kwanza means, if we ironically label the strategy as agriculture first, where as our budget implication is not in line with that slogan,” observes Tresphory and Yustin.

While a lot has been invested in the sector, we have failed to honour commitments like the Malabo Declaration, where each African country is supposed to allocate at least 10 per cent of the national budget to the agricultural sector.

East Africa Legislative Assembly (Eala) last year made a resolution urging member states to fast-track the implementation of the Malabo Declaration in their countries. Will Tanzania implement it?
The Eastern and Southern Africa small scale Farmers’ Forum (ESAFF) coordinator Joe Mzinga has been very emphatic that Tanzania needs to make crops, livestock and fisheries the centre piece of Tanzania’s economic development agenda to improve the livelihood of the majority of people and reduce poverty rates. Many activists and economists are of the same view.

As a nation, we need to invest more than 10 per cent of the national budget in agriculture. If farmers earn money, thanks to agribusiness, they will be able to pay for their children’s health and education.

Our father of the nation, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere in 1982 said, “Because of the importance of agriculture in our development, one would expect that agriculture and the needs of agricultural producers would be the beginning and the central reference point of all our economic planning….agriculture is indeed the foundation of all our progress.” So, let’s empower farmers because agriculture development will have a reverberating effect on all other sectors.

The author is an assistant lecturer, Dar es Salaam University College of Education (DUCE).

Contents are based on writers point of view and is not African Harvesters opinion.

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