21 October 2013

Tanzania makes agriculture a top development priority

This originally appeared on Humanosphere.
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(Dar es Salaam) - Tanzania may be newly rich in natural gas reserves, but government officials say improving agriculture is the number one priority to reach middle income status by 2025.

The East African country's Kilimu Kwanza (Farming First) program is proof that while the country expects to benefit overall as a gas producer, many see agriculture as critical to improving the lives of the average citizen.

More than 40 percent of all Tanzanian children experience stunted growth, an indicator of serious malnutrition and a statistic many here are determined to change.

“You will see the issue of the lack of nutrition in this country,” said Christopher Chiza, Minister of Agriculture for Tanzania.

Africa is awash with talk about how to improve agriculture, ensure food security and reduce the toll of malnutrition. Tanzania is one of a few countries where population growth continues to exceed reductions made in malnutrition and maternal anemia.

These concerns were targeted by an effort known as the Scaling Up Nutrition partnership. Tanzania's 40 percent rate of stunting in children, combined with a 25 percent malnutrition rate and 58 percent maternal anemia rate adds up to a significant food problem here.

It gets even worse in rural areas where more than half live in poverty. In response, the government of Tanzania is focusing on an agricultural corridor that extends from Dar es Salaam on the middle coast south-west to neighboring Zambia. Called the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT), the government is betting that this region can see a major boost in production that will propel the overall development of Tanzania.

An agricultural plan presented by President Kikwete at the 2011 World Economic Forum led to a blueprint for the SAGCOT private-public partnership. It seeks to increase the production of maize, rice and sugar to the point that the farmers can not only feed Tanzania, but sell in neighboring countries.

As recent as last year, the Agriculture Ministry imposed export bans as a way to ensure that food produced in Tanzania reaches Tanzanians. The measures failed as they led to food spoilage due to disrupted crop prices and the inability to sell what was harvested.

With the bans lifted, the government is courting international players and businesses to invest in agriculture in Tanzania. Chiza made it clear that he does not want it to be a corporate social responsibility program for a major corporation. He wants to work with the companies who see Tanzania as an opportunity to make money and do business.

There are concerns that the move will lead to land grabs seen in other parts of Africa. Chiza spoke of the importance of small-scale farmers, but only 10% have land ownership rights. He said that determinations were done at the village level and shrugged off the need to enshrine land ownership for each family.

“We put in corrective measures so that large scale and small-scale farmers can work together,” he said.

The government, for its part, wants to step aside. Chiza said that past attempts to centrally plan agriculture growth failed. Partnering with the private sector represents the shift away from planning. Though there still is an active role for the ministry. It will involve itself in the partnerships, push certain farmers to use certain crops and continue to tout the benefits of fertilizer.

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Chiza even alluded to legislative action that would compel farmers who are unwilling to change the crops they grow to make changes. The need to improve roads, an area Chiza admits the country neglected, adds yet another layer to the requirements for improving agriculture in Tanzania.

100 nutrition officers will soon be deployed for a country of 48 million people. They will work as a part of a nation-wide behavior change effort, said Obey N. Assery, the Director of the Department of Coordination of Government Business. Nutrition is more than just a health issue, he said, but was unable to name what the country is doing to deal with the immediate problem.

The United States is working to improve agriculture through its program, Feed the Future. Established in 2009, Feed the Future was born out of a pledge by President Obama to commit $3.5 billion to agriculture development during the G8 summit in Italy.

The Tanzanian government's commitment to improving agriculture influenced the implementation of FTF for $350 million over five years. It is the largest non-health program that the US runs in Tanzania and is in response to a lull in agriculture support during the 1990s.

Once a strong investor in agriculture, the United States drew down its spending on international agriculture programs during the 90s. When the 2008 financial crisis hit and food prices spiked, it became apparent to many that agriculture investments were vital to a nation's development.

“Greater production will lead to higher incomes that can stimulate economic growth,” said Tom Hobgood , Team Leader for Agriculture and Food Security at USAID Tanzania.

The program is focusing on rice, maize and horticulture to achieve its growth goals. Rice is meant to provide income opportunities for farmers and horticulture will provide valuable nutrition to families through foods like tomatoes.

Hobgood says that it is a really important area because women not only are a significant part of the agriculture labor force (~80% make their living through agriculture), but they are the ones who make the nutrition decisions for their children. Like the Tanzanian government, USAID is increasingly aware of the connections between agriculture and nutrition.

“Unless you improve nutrition and agriculture you aren’t going to grow in away that helps people,” he explains.

Tanzania, on the other hand, is not quite on board. There were mentions of women and their connection to nutrition, but programs that are aimed at women through the Ministry of Agriculture were hard to name for Chiza.

FTF has its sights set on improving the food security in 200,000 households, reaching 1 million people. Other goals in the target areas include reducing the poverty rate by 6 percentage points, increased crop yields, improved market access and the reduction of maternal anemia and childhood stunting by 20%.

The plans created by Tanzania stand out to donors like the United States government. While the US is pushing for some changes within the government, such as changing tax rules, the goals of Kilimu Kwanza and Feed the Future are directly aligned. Whether they can achieve their intended goals remains to be answered.

Tom Murphy reported this story in Tanzania as a fellow with the International Reporting Project (IRP). 

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