Over 70 per cent of Tanzanians depend on agriculture (in the FAO definition to mean crops, livestock, fisheries, forestry and beekeeping) for their livelihoods. The country has over 44 million hectares of arable land, but only a quarter is put to effective production.
The sector accounts for nearly 25 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP), which is a substantial contribution to the economy by any standards. Experts also assert that it accounts for 30 per cent of total exports; and 65 per cent of raw materials for the Tanzanian industries.
Despite these facts, the sector continues to face decades-long challenges including poor access and low use of improved seeds and fertiliser; limited access to financing for adoption of modern technologies; unreliability of rainfall in some regions; poor prioritisation of marketing of the produce; and under-investment by the relevant authorities.
The fact that these problems have continued for so long clearly prove that as a country, we have continued to ignore this sector just as Mwalimu Julius Nyerere said: "Because of the importance of agriculture in our development, one would expect that agriculture and the needs of the agricultural producers would be the beginning and central reference point of all our economic planning. Instead, we have treated agriculture as if it was something peripheral, or just another activity in the country, to be treated at par with all the others, and used by the others without having any special claim upon them ... We are neglecting agriculture".
It is time to change our attitudes towards agriculture and stop paying the sector lip-service. Political will is very much wanting in this matter. Now that we have a new administration in office, we urge it to reconsider and find ways of modernising agriculture.
Address challenges facing agriculture
As we speak, it is the peak of the agricultural season in many parts of the country. For short term measures, it is crucial for local authorities to focus on problems facing farmers now and address them. This is the time extension officers are needed the most amongst farmers and herders for consultation and guiding purposes.
Given the fact that there are times when the weather becomes harsher causing downpours that at times cause flood that damage bridges, local authorities need to be on the watch all the time. They must fix bridges in time to allow communication to continue, and must provide farmers with new seeds and other support in case whole farms are washed away after planting.
Timely intervention during the agricultural season will ensure food security in the country. Statisticians often argue that food takes nearly 50 per cent of household incomes. With adequate food supplies in the country, prices remain within controllable ranges.
As for the long-term goals in line with the National Vision 2025, the government needs to pick from where the Kilimo Kwanza initiative ended.
Various initiatives have been taken before towards improving productivity in agriculture. But, the mechanisation drive started under the Kilimo Kwanza initiative must be taken a notch higher.
Once agriculture starts being seen as a profitable business, it would help stop the rural-to-urban migration of the labour force.
However, in order to change people's negative attitudes towards agriculture political will, careful planning and an desire to improve the country's development are matters that should be pursued in earnest.