Tanzania Daily News (Dar es Salaam)

Tanzania: Tackling Food Security in Tanzania

OVER the past decade there has been a wide-ranging debate focused on the nature and design of programmes to improve food security.

Programmes which attempted to maintain low food prices by subsidizing selected food have generally been found to have major limitations. The programmes are expensive, create incentives for waste, and distort markets (World Bank, 2008).

Most recent programmes have attempted to target beneficiaries to reduce programme costs and increase effectiveness. There are a number of different targeting strategies. A related discussion has also focused on the mechanisms used to deliver assistance. The core of this focuses on mechanisms based on cash versus those that deliver in-kind benefits (such as food).

This debate has been stimulated both by changes in food aid programmes of donors, as well as by the success of conditional cash transfers in countries such as Brazil and Mexico.While much of the debate has drawn on experience outside sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), a recent evaluation of programmes found a richer experience with cash transfers in SSA that was previously available.

The main programme that Tanzania currently uses to address food insecurity is the delivery of free or subsidized maize to food insecure households. The National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA), which reports to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives (MAFC), is responsible for the purchase and distribution of the subsidized maize. The Food Security Department of MAFC, along with several other organizations, does a twice yearly survey to identify food insecure households.

The unit presents its analysis to the Prime Minister's Office, which uses it to determine how much maize, should be delivered and where. The Office then orders NFRS to deliver those volumes of maize to the deficit households identified in the survey. There are several ways in which the operation of the system could be improved. There is a general lack of accurate information on regional and district food production and requirements.

The narrow focus on maize deficits ignores potential availability of other types of food and leads to a potential over-estimation of maize requirements. Operations of NFRA lack transparency, with the result they tend to lead to short term market disruptions. The heavy focus on maize and fears of shortages led the Tanzanian Government to impose a ban on maize exports in July 2011, which remained in place until January 2012.

Most traders agreed that the ban didn't fully stop grain from leaving the country - it appears that large volumes were smuggled out. But producers and traders all complained of negative price impacts.It appears, however, that the Tanzanian Government is about to undertake a major shift towards conditional cash transfers as the primary vehicle for reaching the poorest segments of the population.

The programmes currently in effect and any recommendations for changes in these programmes need to be considered in that context. According to World Bank documents, the Tanzanian Government is about to launch a Productive Social Safety Net Programme, which will provide cash and conditional cash transfers to low income households.

It is being financed by a $220 million World Bank loan, and the goal is to reach 280,000 households by the end of the first phase. If this cash transfer programme is successful, it is possible that the current programme providing maize through NFRA could be phased out or more narrowly targeted so as to avoid duplication.

Under the current system, the Food Security Division of MAFC conducts semi-annual surveys to food needs and availability in districts already identified as vulnerable to production shortfalls. These are identified on the basis of reports from the regional and district disaster management committees.

The Ministry's Food Security Department estimates food availability and requirements for each district to identify those with a deficit. The Department forecasts production of 10 basic food crops: maize, rice, sorghum, millet, rice, pulses, cassava, bananas and potatoes.

Production and requirements for each commodity are converted into a maize equivalent, and the total deficit or surplus is reported as a maize equivalent. Total requirements are derived from a norm of 2100 calories per person per day converted to maize equivalent, but it is not clear how the requirements are allocated between grains and non-grains.

In March and August a team goes out to visit the districts where the vulnerable villages are located. The team consists of MAFC staff, representatives from the Prime Minister's Office, the Ministry of Livestock and Development, the Tanzania Food and Nutrition Center, FAO, WFP, World Vision, Oxfam, and other NGOs.

The team selects 3 villages in each district, and, in consultation with village leaders, group village households into three wealth categories: "resource weak", "moderate", and" food secure".

The team then interviews 12 households in each of the three villages, chosen such that all three wealth groups are represented. The questionnaires administered by the team include a wide range of questions covering household crop and livestock production, sales of production, prices received, food availability, and coping strategies.

Nutritionists on the team select a sample of 100 children and conduct anthropomorphic measurements as an estimate of nutritional status. On the basis of the Department's analysis, the Disaster Management Committee of the Prime Minister's Office determines which villages should receive food aid and how much.

The office then orders NFRA to deliver maize to the villages in need. Households identified as resource weak receive the maize for free; those identified as moderate pay 50 shillings per kg. (Compared to a market price of 350-400 shillings per kg.)

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