Dar es Salaam — Overdependence on rains tellingly annoys Ms Eda Chibuti, a smallholder vegetable farmer in Chamwino District.
The 36-year-old cannot meaningfully irrigate crops as infrastructure is poor.
"Had we had enough dams to water our farms, we could have grown more vegetables for sale to earn money," she says.
She is among hundreds of women organised and instructed on issues pertaining to public financing on various sectors like agriculture,
She knows that enough dams can be built if the government amply finance agriculture by allocating 10 per cent of its national budget to the sector.
"If this happens and the money reaches us, [then] our living standards will improve considerably. It's all we are asking for."
Ms Chibuti is the mother of two and she expects the third one.
Plea for EAC to increase agriculture funds
Many share Ms Chibuti's concern about the government failure to allocate 10 per cent of the national budget to agriculture. A petition demanding East African Community (EAC) member states to make it legal requirement to allocate and disburse the ten per cent of their national budgets to the sector is circulating.
The campaign has been initiated by the Eastern and Southern Africa Small-scale Farmers Forum (ESAFF) and targets EAC heads of State.
ESAFF is a network of grassroots small-scale farmers' organisations working in 15 countries of Eastern and Southern Africa.
It demands that for over 130 million small-scale farmers to benefit, EAC states should make it mandatory from 2019/2020 budget to allocate not less than 10 per cent of their national budgets to agriculture.
ESAFF articulates that agriculture has a potential to uplift people out of deprivation by eleven more times than other sectors such as oil and gas.
Its petition builds on the 2014- 23rd Ordinary Session of the AU Assembly in Equatorial Guinea, where African Union heads of State and Government adopted the Malabo Declaration on Accelerated Agricultural Growth and Transformation for Shared Prosperity and Improved Livelihoods.
The declaration was to serve as a commitment to ending hunger by 2025.
Grim prospect on the ground
This commitment notwithstanding, the situation on the ground is as unsatisfactory as it is disappointing. Statistics show that in 2015 only Burundi and Rwanda met the 10 per cent target for their agriculture expenditure. In 2016, Burundi agriculture budget was 14.22 per cent of the national budget, Kenya 2.4 per cent (excluding counties' funding), Rwanda, 18.8 per cent, Tanzania 4.9 per cent and Uganda 4.5 per cent.
A report by Grow Africa, an AU-affiliated think tank working to increase private sector investment in agriculture, states that out of the 47 member states that reported progress in implementing the Malabo Declaration in 2017, only 20 reported to be on track for achieving the commitments by 2025.
Rwanda had the highest score - of 6.1 - on Agricultural Transformation in Africa, and is the 2017 best-performing country in implementing the Malabo Declaration.
The report mentions five countries in the Eastern Africa as being on track in meeting Malabo commitments. They are Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda.
Three other countries - Djibouti, Sudan and Tanzania - are not on track.
In 2017, the East Africa Legislative Assembly passed the Zanzibar Resolution to domesticate the Malabo Declaration at regional and national.
The resolution was seen as paramount for agriculture renaissance to kick off.
Working with community groups
Ms Janet Nyamayahasi has been working with grassroots mobilisation groups in the Chamwino District in pressurising the government to implement the Malabo Declaration as well as create awareness to smallholder farmers.
Working under the umbrella of a platform of women smallholder farmers in the district, Juwacha, Ms Nyamayahasi says the government has not been allocating and disbursing 10 per cent of its national budget for agriculture.
"One of major problems to farmers is the inadequate number of extension officers," she told The Citizen recently.
Roads impassable during rainy season
The president of the Women Smallholder Farmers Forum in Tanzania, Ms Amina Senge, says there is a direct connection between lower agriculture budget allocation and challenges growers face.
She speaks about difficulties of getting appropriate farm inputs.
She says due to the situation quacks had taken advantage to supply poor-quality implements and inferior seeds.
Ms Senge, herself a small-scale farmer from Singida Rural, also cites poor roads that are impassable during the rainy season.
During this time, the cost of transporting a 100-kilo bag of onions from the farm to the market, 40 kilometres away, is Sh7,000, up from Sh3,000 during the dry season. Surprisingly, farmers pay the same price - Sh7000 - to transport a 100-kilo bag of onions from Singida market to Kariakoo in Dar es Salaam.
"If policy-makers comprehend the complexity of the challenges surrounding agriculture, then the manner of doing things won't be business as usual.
"Farmers face immense challenges and we will continue carrying out a campaign for policy-makers to become aware of the situation and tackle such problems."
Importance of loans for agriculture
The secretary general of Sauti ya Pamoja ya Wanawake, Ms Farida Muro, believes many women are poor because the government neglects agriculture, in which the majority of women work. The situation makes them dependent on men.
"If the budget is unsatisfactory," she points out, "then the provision of loans to women can alleviate the situation and improve the performance of agriculture."
It is against that background that Juwacha consultant Burton Mwida thinks that women smallholder farmers should be empowered with knowledge on why budget increase matters and how does it relate to their problems.
Fortunately, that is exactly what ActionAid Tanzania has been doing. It started running capacity-building programmes among smallholder women farmers in 2006. They have been organised into groups to have a single, powerful voice.
ActionAid Tanzania's project manager for Dodoma and Singida regions, Mr Elias Mtinda, says the decision was motivated by the fact that a great number of women in Tanzania are farmers.
Although the government is responsible for supporting farmers and that it is supposed to fund agriculture, many growers did not know their rights.
Most of them had a low understanding of the budget-related issues.
"We chose to intervene and it has worked," he says. "People are now able to make follow-ups on various government-funded projects while questioning their delays and how the money is used."
Ms Chibuti agrees that she has become knowledgeable about public financing in agriculture and has been able to question the government's response on the issue.
That impresses Singida Municipal Council's agriculture, irrigation and cooperative officer, Mr Abel Mngale, who says the citizens' understanding of public financing on various projects eases the authorities' burden.
"For example, we have 84 villages. Now if we don't have additional 'eyes' of looking at our projects, their sustainability can be compromised."