Back in 2012, fourth phase President Jakaya Kikwete told an international forum in Arusha that Africa, and Tanzania in particular, stands a better chance of registering a more robust economic growth and sustainable development by boosting agricultural production.
Backing up the former president, FAO has indicated in the past that growth in the agriculture sector in Sub-Sahara Africa is 11 times more effective at reducing poverty than growth in other sectors, like mining. Statistics show that the majority of people in this region depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. The sector contributes about 32 per cent to the economy, and employs over 65 per cent of the labour force.
After a lot of efforts made, between 2012 and 2015, the country managed to produce surplus food. Therefore, we could export grains to neighbouring countries. It should be remembered that in 2011, the President decided to scrap export bans for grains. It was a great moment for hardworking farmers to find new markets.
For the 2016/17 agriculture budget, Mr Mwigulu Nchemba (who was in charge of the Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries docket) indicated clearly that we had a food surplus of 2.6 million tonnes, thanks to previous years' harvests. Later on reports emerged that the rainfall had not been adequate and a number of regions would suffer hunger. Export bans were re-introduced.
It's notable that in Mbeya, Iringa, Ruvuma and Rukwa regions (breadbasket regions), when others are complaining of hunger, most of the time they have food surplus. Recently there was news indicating that in Morogoro (another breadbasket region), there is a surplus tomatoes to the extent that they were being fed to livestock. Since as a country we don't have facilities to store perishable agriculture produce for long periods, sometimes its 100 per cent loss for farmers, when they fail to get timely markets. For the grains, reports show that about 15 per cent of the harvest goes to waste.
Farmers face other challenges as well including drought (in some years) and too much rain. All is due to the climate change. As a nation, we must come together and strategise on supporting our farmers. We must invest in preparedness. We must not let the farmers suffer alone. We must also enable them find market for their crops in years of plenty. We must strike the balance between regions with surplus produce and those that don't. Finding market for those with surplus food is building their financial capacity, which is a crucial component when it comes to building the national economy.
It's clear that contribution of agriculture to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in Africa has been declining. This is not the same in Russia where agro-exports now surpass sale of weapons. In that country, the sector is predicted to become the second largest export after energy. In America, mechanized agriculture has reached new levels, with use of hitch gadgets.
We cannot be left behind, and the only way is to encourage technology adoption and induce more productivity, and enable farmers to access markets instead of their produce going to waste. I feel we should be banning food imports rather than exports.
One body that is vital for the growth of the sector is the Tanzania Meteorological Agency (TMA). Recently, TMA announced that between October and December, most part of the country will experience below normal rains associated with late onset of short rainfall season. These are vital information to farmers, livestock keepers and all wananchi at large. But is it possible for the TMA to avail such information early enough so that the common mwananchi can take necessary precautionary measures?
Saumu Jumanne is an assistant lecturer, Dar es Salaam University College of Education (DUCE).