SEVERAL districts in Tanzania have been acknowledged to have serious food shortages and the government is hurriedly ameliorating the situation.
That is good a response, but did the government have to find itself in that state of affairs when the country of 40 million has vast tracks of arable land including fertile river valleys and the central plateau?
The shortest answer is 'No'. Tanzania has since independence sang the song of 'Agriculture is the backbone of the economy', but little has gone into strategizing and implementing viable actions towards surplus food production.
Tanzanians have depended on food produced by peasants who use the six-inch hoe to cultivate small farms. Few use quality seeds and fertilizers to grow crops. Large-scale or commercial farming, that existed before the adoption of the 1967 Arusha Declaration - the country's socialist blueprint - food shortages were non-existent, but from the 1970s to date, food shortages have ominously hung over the country.
The agricultural sector has been doubly hit by the occasional droughts and the problems of global finance. The peasants get little from their farms and whatever they can export is hit by an unfavourable world market.
Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda has stated his determination to turn agriculture around by directing that all the nearly 120 districts must allocate money in the next annual budgets - July 2009/10 - to purchase 40 small tractors each, in order to start mechanizing farming.
However, he has already noted that the envisaged small tractors, which are imported duty free at a cost of about US$4,000, some local government officials have been quoting them as costing $9,000 each.
This is already a problem of fraud and corruption creeping in even before the importation takes place. It is clear that the government has to resolve many things ahead of satisfying food supplies to its people.
Tanzania can and should resolve its agricultural policy and thereby become the bread basket of the East African Community of 120 million people. Its options are fairly simple, but require determination, mechanization, large scale commercial farming and government financial guarantees to those who will venture into this sector. The country's vast virgin territory should be turned to agriculture in the shortest time. It has done well to ask foreign investors to join commercial farming, but the land ownership law must quickly be amended to accommodate such kind of farmers.