HAMISI Mabula, a smallholder farmer in Tanga region, is familiar with a dark and bright side of practicing agriculture in the region. Like many other farmers in the region, Mr Mabula relies on agriculture as the only means to enable him earn his daily bread and pay school fees for his children.
"It is agriculture which made me own my own house and pay school fees for my children," says Mr Mabula who resides in Totonoka suburb. Though agriculture still pays him, but he recalls better days gone by between 1960 and 1990 when the demand for agricultural produce was high due to existence of several industries which required raw materials.
"Those days, there was a strong link between farmers and industries. The situation then changed just after privatization," he says. Agriculture is the main economic activity for the residents of Tanga where over 70 per cent of its population lives in rural areas.
But, Mr. Mabula recounts a number of challenges facing the latter, ranging from lack of enough capital and poor technology to practice modern farming. "For me, I find it hard to cultivate a large farm because I still use a hand hoe...
I wish I could do that with a tractor, but I can't afford it," he says. His feeling is echoed by Ms Violet Msambili, also a farmer, who suggests that the farmers be empowered to cultivate using modern farm inputs so that they can boost production.
"Many of us are poor. We lack capital. The government should reach out to many farmers in providing loans for buying farm equipment," she appeals. Some farmers who spoke about the coming Tanga Business Forum expressed optimism that the event may help in raising some critical issues facing agriculture in the region, thus making the sector contribute more to regional and national economy.
The event is organized by Tanzania Standard Newspapers (TSN), publishers of the Daily News, Sunday News, Habari Leo, Habari Leo Jumapili and Spoti Leo newspapers in partnership with Tanga region leadership.
With an exception of Tanga and Pangani districts, the remaining six districts of the region--Mkinga,Muheza, Korogwe, Kilindi, Handeni and Lushoto--were earmarked for agriculture. For decades, Tanga has been a major grower of sisal, with availability of large sisal plantations.In the past, people from other regions flocked to Tanga region to work in the sisal plantations.
"During that time, agriculture in the region contributed a lot to the regional gross domestic product as opposed to the current situation where the sector's contribution has dropped," says Makame Seif, the Mbaramo ward councilor in Muheza.
He blamed the decrease in agricultural production on the government's move to divert more incentives to other sectors such as industries and mining. He argues that for national agricultural development plans to bring an impact, they need to address challenges facing the small holder farmers by giving them training and support by giving them farm machinery like tractors and plows so that they can shift from local agriculture to commercial or large scale agriculture.
According to the 2007/08 National Sample Census of Agriculture for Small Holder farmers, Tanga has an area of 610,519 hectares available for smallholder farmers. This is the fourth census after the previous ones conducted in 1971/72, 1993/94 and the third was conducted in 2002/03.
Out of 610,519 hectares, the total area planted with annual crops and vegetables was 436,725 hectares. The report shows that a total of 330,779 households engage in agricultural activities, with Lushoto district leading by having the largest number of households, totaling 94,075 (28 per cent) followed by Korogwe with 56,898 households (17 per cent).
The remaining districts are Handeni (52,718), Muheza (41,779), Kilindi (33,977) Mkinga (22,581), Tanga (15,629) and Pangani (13,122). Of the 330,779, a total of 213,940 households (64.6 per cent) were engaged in crop production only as the major agricultural activity compared to households engaged in mixed crop and livestock production.
The survey indicates that113, 476 households (34.3 per cent) engaged in crops and livestock, 3,131 households (0.95 per cent) were only for livestock and 233 households were pastoralists (0.1 per cent) The first three districts with the largest number of households engaged in growing crop only were Lushoto (45,296) followed by Korogwe (40,882) and Handeni (36,317).
In general, crop or seaweed farming provided the most important source of income (46 per cent), followed by livestock keeping. At the national level, the country envisages that by 2025, as the target set by the Agricultural Sector Development Strategy (ASDS), the agricultural sector will be modernized, commercial, highly productive and profitable, utilizing natural resources in an overall sustainable manner and act as an effective basis for intersectoral linkage.
Among efforts to boost agricultural production, the government is determined to enable more farmers use fertilizers. The Minister for Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, Dr Charles Tizeba, said when presenting the 2017/18 ministry's budget in the Parliament that the government has been making efforts to increase availability and use of fertilizers, noting that by 2016/17, availability was 277,935 (57 per cent) tonnes against the total need of 485,000 tonnes.
Dr. Tizeba noted that in emphasizing the use of modern farm equipments, the government through the National Development Corporation (NDC) has completed earmarking areas in eight zones for establishing centres that will be providing tractor services, selling spare parts and educating farmers on better farming practices.
Through the Policy and Human Resource Development (PHRD), the government has also procured and distributed 14 machines for processing paddy in the districts of Korogwe, Mwanga, Babati and Kilombero, among others.
Under the Agricultural Inputs Trust (AGITF), the government plans to spend 7.9 billion for providing 71 tractors in terms of loans to farmers in this financial year. Currently, Tanga has tremendous investment opportunities in agriculture, ranging from production, processing, marketing and service provision in the crop sub sector.
Opportunities are available in sisal, spices, tea, cashew nuts, floriculture, fruits and vegetable. For instance, the region had several sisal plantations scattered throughout the region. These were the backbone of the economy of the region.
Unfortunately, most of these plantations which were state owned could not survive the turbulence that was manifested in the world economy over the past decade. This left most of the plantations abandoned.
Due to this trend, opportunity is available in establishment of new plantations and joint venture in the privatized sisal estates in Tanga. This may be partnership with local communities, private companies or the government of Tanzania through Public Private Partnership (PPP).
Currently, only 4 per cent of sisal is utilized for fibre and twine production. Investment opportunities are available in sisal spinning and weaving, production of alcohol, particle boards, biogas, and citric acid and in establishment of pulp factories.