28 August 2014

Tanzania: Cattle - an Economic Boon

A RECENT study has revealed that milk consumption in the country has increased in the last ten years from 28 litres to 39 litres per person per year.

Nutritionists believe that milk drinking culture, which thrived among most tribal settings in the past, is making a comeback. Most milk is drawn from the predominantly short horn zebu cattle.

However, an insignificant supply emanates from various breeds of improved cattle which account for only three per cent of the hefty 22 millionstrong herd.

Tanzania may have a large herd of cattle, but, paradoxically, there are districts or even whole regions where cow's milk or beef is virtually unheard of.

The nation has 22 million head of cattle. It comes third in Africa in this aspect after Ethiopia and Sudan. But Tanzanians drink too little milk and eat far less meat.

A local veterinarian once quipped: "Residents in Lindi, Mtwara, Kigoma and some parts of Ruvuma can hardly tell the difference between a goat and a sheep or between a cow and a buffalo."

Well, most residents in these regions do not keep livestock. And what the National Assembly heard last year is difficult to decipher. The august House was told that Tanzania exported more than 880 tonnes of meat worth 28.8bn/- last fiscal year and that business keeps booming.

The country also exported 126.2 tonnes of beef; 88.4 tonnes of mutton and 667 tonnes of goat meat. The then Minister for Livestock Development and Fisheries, Dr David Mathayo David, also told the lawmakers that seven new meat processing plants and 67 diary product factories would be built.

This effort is welcome but it is unthinkable that the minister should speak of a paltry 28.8bn/- earned from meat exports a whole year. The nation's herd of cattle is simply big enough to generate a much better income.

Perhaps the main pitfall in this business is the stark reality that the nation exports live cattle as well, instead of the more lucrative products alone.

The main importers of live cattle (and products) are Comoro, Burundi, Kuwait, Oman and the United Arab Emirates. Live cattle and products are also shipped to neighbouring countries with Kenya in the lead. The other canker is that this nation has virtually failed to improve the genetic quality of its herd of cattle.

The short horn Zebu and Ankole remain dominant in the herd. These produce too little meat and insignificant amounts of milk and other products.

When addressing a rally at Loliondo in October 2010, President Jakaya Kikwete told livestock keepers, some of whom were also farmers, to grow high quality pasture for their cattle.

He also said that a new livestock policy calls for rearing of better quality hybrid cattle. The policy encourages cattle keepers to grow cattle feeds that would save their animals from starvation when droughts or floods hit.

He called for smaller but healthier herds. The president, who was on a campaign trail, also said that livestock research centres would be enabled to produce higher-value hybrid bulls that would be distributed to cattle keepers in a quest to produce better cattle that would produce more meat and more milk.

Well, not much has been done since that year. As mentioned earlier, Tanzanians are also poor eaters of meat and even poorer drinkers of their own milk. The nation slaughters 1,500,000 cattle; 2,500,000 goats and 550, 000 sheep on average every year.

But the citizens of this considerably wealthy nation eat only 11 kilos of meat a year which is very low as compared to the 50 kilos recommended by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Milk drinking is equally miserable although there is improvement. The nation has a huge task in its hands.

Apart from enlightening its citizens on the good virtues of eating enough meat and drinking much milk, efforts should be made to ensure that exports of live cattle taper off and that more cattle products are exported.

Tanzania is performing equally miserably in agriculture despite the presence of highly brilliant development initiatives that include Kilimo Kwanza and the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT).

And there are many smaller ones. These include the hefty plan to make Morogoro Region the breadbasket of the nation.

The SAGCOT, which envisages increasing food output for local consumption, is indeed a boon for the wananchi. Like Kilimo Kwanza, SAGCOT is the brainchild of President Jakaya Kikwete, a firebrand politician who has the welfare of Tanzanians close to his heart.

SAGCOT is tailored to put more food on the table in all homes and generate surplus for export. The scheme is such a brilliant idea. Already some leading European nations, some of whom are skeptics when it comes gauging the viability of African development initiatives, are keen to finance the scheme.

These include the US, Japan and some multi-national firms. This is an encouraging show of cooperation that Tanzania should honour.

The SAGCOT scheme is a highly ambitious initiative that is organised through a public-private partnership model. This is a good approach for starters.

The other wonderful aspect is that the scheme focuses on promoting clusters of profitable farming with major benefits going to small-scale farmers and local communities. But work on both Kilimo Kwanza and SAGCOT remains slow and rather inconspicuous.

Both initiatives seek to eliminate the spectre of hunger which often afflicts residents in the central and northern parts of the country.

Indeed, Tanzania has no reason to have hungry citizens in one area and bumper harvests in another. After all even the Strategic Grain Reserves hold enough food to ward off hunger. Going by statistics, agriculture provides work for 14.7 million Tanzanians. This figure also translates to 79 per cent of the total economically active population.

And, it would be remiss not to say that 54 per cent of agricultural workers are female and that smallscale subsistence farmers comprise more than 90 per cent of the farming population.

It is imperative then that farmers, who make up nearly 90 per cent of the 45 million-strong nation, need a lot of societal support. It is these mostly poor peasant farmers who eke out a meagre living out of farm work and produce surplus to feed the rest of the population.

The food crops grown mainly in the Southern Highlands, the nation's bread basket, are maize, sorghum, millet, paddy, wheat, sweet potato, cassava, pulses and bananas.

Hunger never stalks the highlands which comprise, Mbeya, Iringa, Ruvuma and Rukwa regions. These are the Big Four. Ironically, while farmers in the Southern Highlands complain that the surplus food stockpiled in their homes is spoiling for lack of markets, residents in Manyara, Shinyanga, Dodoma, Mara, Arusha and Tabora struggle with pangs of hunger.

Now, this is a laughable scenario. There should be an elaborate mechanism that enables food deficient areas to get supplies from affluent regions. If successful, the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania will help address this problem.

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