The spectre of famine is threatening Tanzania. However, this should not have come as a surprise as climate change has been sweeping across the world, yet we pretended to be immune and stuck to the business of yore of depending on rainfed agriculture.
Many Tanzanians are waiting for rain with bated breath as drought has left land unfit for farming. Crops have failed and livestock died for lack of pasture.
Drought has scorched a number of districts, with residents seeking assistance. Panicking farmers have started selling their livestock to have money to buy food.
But cattle prices are rapidly falling: from an average of Sh400,000 each the previous week to Sh200,000 last week.
Goat prices plunged to Sh40,000 each from Sh120,000 during the same period, while those of chickens fell to Sh4,000 from Sh15,000. Food prices are escalating. The retail price of maize flour has risen to Sh1,400-1,700 a kilo from Sh1,200 a month ago in Dar es Salaam. Sadly, the National Food Reserve Agency has been caught napping. It had 90,476 tonnes of cereals in October 2016, down from 253,655 tonnes in October 31, 2015, the Bank of Tanzania has reported.
The Tanzania Meteorological Authority (TMA) has warned that half of the major cereal-producing regions received rain below average last month. That means food production will be terribly low. The situation may derail economic growth.
Last month's TMA report named Dar es Salaam, Tanga, Coast, Morogoro, Kilimanjaro, Arusha, Manyara, Kigoma, Katavi, Tabora, Dodoma and Singida as the regions that would receive rain below average, with Kagera, Geita, Shinyanga, Mwanza, Mara and Simiyu being among those that will receive average rainfall.
Reduction in cereal yields
Last month's Famine Early Warning Systems Network (Few Net) report projected that seasonal rainfall deficits, coupled with erratic rains would reduce cereal yields.
Food security is a sensitive matter and the government should not have been caught off guard. Investment in agriculture has been poor. Young people have been abandoning farming, migrating to urban areas to work as hawkers.
Although at the 23rd Ordinary Summit of the African Union in Malabo, the terms of the 2003 Maputo Declaration of Food Security and Agriculture for the continent were reaffirmed to increase efforts toward allocating 10 per cent of national budgets for policy implementation for agriculture and rural development, Tanzania has not done so. Now it is bearing the consequences of its inaction. To find ways of getting out of quagmire, short-, medium- and long-term plans are needed to ensure food security.
The government should thoroughly assess the food situation, dispatch food relief to the worst-affected households, supply more cereals to the market and restrict grain exports.
Cereal imports should be increased and, if the need arises, seek international help. To have a lasting solution to food insecurity, Tanzania should invest heavily in irrigation, research and development to have affordable high-yielding crop varieties and other inputs. We cannot depend of rain.