TANZANIA'S move to accept three neighbouring countries of Malawi, Zambia and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT) has been touted as a move that would boost regional food security.
The Chairman of the SAGCOT Centre, Mr Salum Shamte says the corridor would expand and include the three countries, a move that will expand farmers' access to markets in those countries, among other things.
The idea that the move will expand farmers' access to markets in those countries is shared by the Executive Director for Beira Agricultural corridor Mr Emerson Zhou who notes that landlocked countries joining corridors would be a big boost to them.
In an interview with 'Daily News', Malawi's National Smallholder Farmers' Association, Chief Executive Officer Mr Dyborn Chibonga, said they 'urgently' need the SAGCOT corridor to cut down on the costs of transportation of farm produce from the current 60 per cent of whatever they export or import. "Malawi is a land locked country. So we need the corridor.
Malawi can import more and export more but the challenge is transportation," he said. He said 40 to 60 per cent of anything imported or exported is transport costs. Agriculture forms the backbone of Malawi's economy.
"So the SAGCOT corridor will reduce that," he said. He said there was the Green Belt Irrigation, which has just started in Malawi and would benefit from SAGCOT. He said this is the motivation for this country's green belt concept.
It is strengthened by painful memories of the severe drought beginning in early 2002, which triggered three years of hunger. By 2005, five million people were affected by famine, all while large quantities of water flowed out of the country to the oceans of the world, he lamented.
The plan is to protect the gains in food security, reduce vulnerability to drought and to boost production still further by irrigating a million hectares in a swathe of land lying within 20 kilometres of the country's three lakes and 13 perennial rivers.
On the opportunities of including the countries in the corridor, Mr Shamte said that the SAGCOT corridor has 7.5m hectares yet only has 2.5m hectares are under agriculture. He said Tanzania has 77 per cent of the people engaged in agriculture, of which 97 per cent are small holder farmers. "You can not speak of transforming agriculture without touching them.
Anyone who is in business wants to grow. No one wants to remain small," he says. He says there is going to be a transformation or movement for agriculture where the more it grows, the more people would move from the sector to other growing service sectors.
"The farms will grow larger and we are going to see even larger farmers. This is the way to go. The minimum size for a small holder farmer to make a difference is where a farm is about 15 hectares," he said. "So we shall not displace anybody.
We will have small holder farmers in the corridor and make them expand," he said. As a means to ensure food security and income generation for smallholder farmers, the government put in place a backup action plan to achieve the objectives of Kilimo Kwanza, with the SAGCOT initiative.
The SAGCOT initiative was born out of the deliberations of the World Economic Forum on Africa held in May 2010 in Dar es Salaam, so as to bolster government efforts and other stakeholders seeking to bring about a green revolution in Africa.
President Jakaya Kikwete believes the new strategy will properly anchor and underscore the involvement and the critical importance of the private sector to participate actively in agricultural production, provision of agricultural inputs, crop marketing and in the agricultural value addition chain.
The SAGCOT initiative is a public-private partnership placed to achieve the objectives of Kilimo Kwanza from the coastal plains and the valleys of Kilombero and Ruaha, to the hills and valleys of the Southern Highlands and the Usangu flats.
The objective, he said, was to take bold actions to enable Tanzania to realise its aspirations of modernised and highly productive agriculture. "This was the reason for bringing up a new strategy called Kilimo Kwanza in 2009 to take care of some noticed weaknesses, and now SAGCOT is in place," he said.
However, the Director General of Rufiji Basin Development Authority (RUBADA), Mr Aloyce Masanja says the private sector in the country has to be more active players in making the initiative a success.
"The private sector can perform better...they have strong links with other areas of economic activities which are linked to agriculture development," he said. SAGCOT is a government initiative and an integral part of Kilimo Kwanza that seeks to revolutionise agriculture in the country.
Experts say if implemented properly, SAGCOT could feed the East Africa region and become a major agricultural exporter, to rival the likes of Brazil. SAGCOT seeks to link farmers to modern supply chains and make agriculture a profitable activity, in a country where over 75 per cent of the population is engaged in the sector.
Mr Masanja said that the involvement of private sector in the implementation of SAGCOT is in conformity to the country's policy of Public Private Partnership (PPP) which calls for a close participation of private sector in development projects.
"Our hope is that the collaboration between the government and the private sector will give impetus toward fast implementation of SAGCOT and therefore fast development of the country," he said.
Giving an example of the Kilombero basin, Mr Masanja said leaders through their councils should send their proposals to RUBADA after which the authority would prepare the Commodity Investment Plan. Rice has been proposed for the Kilombero Basin plus other cash and food crops.
He said that leaders from village up to district level should come up and sensitise people so that every one of them should understand and work on the development of SAGCOT. He said SAGCOT has been initiated by the government as part of implementing Kilimo Kwanza initiative with a broad aim to attain green revolution in Tanzania and eventually economic development.
The corridor involves Mbeya, Iringa, Coast Region, Rukwa, and Ruvuma regions. "We want to push for the active involvement of a private sector in agriculture and help small holder farmers," he said.
He explained that among other benefits, the plan is to make small holder farmers also cultivate cash crops by connecting them with large scale farmers who will be investing in the sector through SAGCOT. He noted that availability of a reliable ferry across Kilombero River at Ifakara should be a priority in the government plan for the effective execution of SAGCOT and Kilimo Kwanza.
He said that even if farmers managed to increase agricultural output, it would be meaningless if there is no reliable ferry to transport crops to the market. "This ferry has been a hurdle for Kilombero valley inhabitants for a while now. What is important is to have a long term plan to solve the problem once and for all," Mr Masanja said.
He added that the permanent solution to the problem would be construction of a bridge across the river. Kilombero Valley falls under the authority of Rubada and is one of the areas to be developed under SAGCOT. "Kilombero is one of the areas lined up to attract investors and therefore availability of a bridge would greatly help in this endeavour," he said.
So far the government, through Rubada, has managed to attract investors at Mngeta rice plantation from which surrounding farmers benefit. To make the dream come true, already Rubada has met several stakeholders, discussed and agreed to work with decision-makers to permanently solve transport problems in the area.