THE move by Bakhresa Group of Companies to build a multi-billionshilling food depot at Kasanga port in Rukwa Region has opened up prospects for more cross-border trade between Tanzania and its eastern and southern neighbours.
The neighbouring countries are the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Burundi and Zambia. According to John Mcharo, a transport economist, the company's move to take over significant renovations of the port and procure a ship, expected to ply across the lake serving the country and other neighbouring countries would step up business activities in Sumbawanga Municipality through Zambia and DRC.
Sumbawanga is the main trade link with Zambia and DRC through Kasanga port in lake Tanganyika. Six international contractors from Greece, China, Denmark and The Netherlands are implementing the projects scheduled to take place between 22 and 32 months.
He said that Kaengesa, one of the region's 397 villages which produce the bulk of maize making Rukwa one of the country's bread baskets is expected to use the port to export food. The Bakhresa Group, an investment multinational, has spread its business to Rwanda, Burundi and DRC in a move that aims at serving their customers better.
In some countries like Rwanda, the group, which operates under the Azam brand, promises to promote wheat farming. Mr John Gara, the Rwanda Development Board chief welcomed the group, saying their investment in agro processing is the largest this year.
Mr Mcharo said transiting through Kasanga for the DRC exports and imports will have its transportation costs reduced by a third, due to the fact that a number of border transit customs clearance procedures as undertaken along the traditional route from Dar es Salaam to or from Lubumbashi via Tunduma and Kasumbalesa will be avoided. S.S. Bakhresa's food store will be the hub to sell food to DRC, he said.
The government is constructing over six major roads connecting the region with three neighbouring regions and introducing over 16 irrigation projects, aiming at covering more than 2,357 out 31,755 hectares of land suitable for agriculture.
Farmers blame the government for ignoring feeder roads linking their farms with the main roads to markets. So far companies like Energy Millers (T) Limited, which has a milling plant in Sumbawanga Urban, are already exporting food to neighbouring countries.
Farmers such as Felician Sikazwe from Kaengesa village in Sumbawanga Rural who delivered 400 bags of maize at NFRA during the year, says there is a growing feeling that the growth of the port would boost agriculture.
Over the years, farmers have continued to face a dire need of reliable markets for their surplus food both at home and abroad, due to poor infrastructure connecting the region with others such as Mbeya and Kigoma. Mr Protas Kazimoto, who is a farmer in Kalambo constituency said all parliamentary contestants went to the village for campaigning and promised to buy tractors and power tillers for them as a way of boosting agriculture, once elected.
This had led to a perpetual failure to improve their lives as surplus produce - many a time - remains unsold in their homes - with the situation getting worse during rainy seasons when they can neither transport it through bad roads nor appropriately store it in the few warehousing storage facilities in their environs.
But the roads currently under construction link up the region's three economic zones including Rukwa valley in Mpanda District where there is rice, maize, sun flower, beans, potatoes. There is also the Ufipa plateau which has maize, sun flower and beans and the Lake Tanganyika Mwambao which has produce such as cassava and sun flower.
The Millenium Challenge Corporation (MCC) is providing support for the on-going projects of upgrading to tarmac level three major roads in Rukwa Region at a cost of more than 428bn/-.
Upon completion, the project which will cover 600 kilometres will open up Rukwa and connect it with neighbouring regions and bordering countries including Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Zambia and Malawi. Aarsleff - BAM international Joint Venture V.O.F from Denmark and The Netherlands are upgrading the Laela - Sumbawanga section (95.31 km).