21 June 2012

Africa: Budget Neglects Agriculture - - Activist

GOVERNMENT failure to allocate at least 10 per cent of next year's budget to agriculture in line with African Union (AU)'s Maputo Declaration of 2003 is frustrating growth of the sector while putting hurdles to smallholder farmers' access to lucrative markets.

Chairman of National Network of Small Scale Farmers in Tanzania (MVIWATA), Habibu Simbamkuti told 'Daily News' on Wednesday that the government has continued to ignore the 10 per cent minimum budget allocation to the sector to meet food needs plus surplus for the export market.

"As a result smallholder farmers are regularly subjected to blockades to access lucrative markets. Apart from regular food exports ban, the government also imposes a lot of road blocks against agro-produce within the country," Mr Simbamkuti said. Delivering the 2012/13 budget in parliament last Thursday, Finance Minister, Dr William Mgimwa said agriculture which is one of the priority areas has been allocated less than 8 per cent.

Last year, the sector which is touted as backbone of the economy was allocated less than 7 per cent. Simbamkuti warned that unless annual budget allocation reaches 10 per cent, agriculture growth will continue at snail's pace which will deny smallholder farmers choice of their markets where they can earn maximum returns.

"Smallholder farmers are feeding this country but the government simply ignores them by failing to address their needs such as title deeds of their farms and houses which could enable them access bank loans," Simbamkuti noted. The MVIWATA Chairman also lamented delays by the government to establish an agricultural development bank and dismissed talk of a mini agro-window at Tanzania Investment Bank as targeting smallholder farmers.

"No smallholder farmer can access TIB loans because of lack of collateral but also prohibitive interest rates," argued Simbamkuti. Seconding MVIWATA Chairman's demand to the government to establish an agriculture development bank, Agriculture Council of Tanzania (ACT) Communications Officer, Cleophas Rwechungura said the next budget should ensure that the financial institution is established.

"The government should ensure that the agriculture development bank should start as soon as possible," argued Mr Rwechungura in a statement. Denouncing district council levies and other taxes which target commodities, Rwechungura said the government should address the hostile tax regime facing farmers.

"District councils should broaden their tax base so that the burden on farmers can be eased as crops are subject to numerous taxes," Rwechungura noted. Among other things, farmers are demanding abolition of crop access which district councils charge at between 3 and 5 per cent. ACT however has commended the government's budget saying most ministries responsible for the agriculture sector have been allocated relatively some good resources.

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