Comparative advantages in seed and maize trade normal

26Dec 2017
The Guardian
Comparative advantages in seed and maize trade normal

EFFORTS are gathering pace in the Ministry of Agriculture to make Tanzania a major producer of maize seeds in the coming years, on the basis of recent remarks by Agriculture Minister Dr Charles Tizeba.

He made this observation in a one day visit to Rukwa Region early this month, taking 2020 as the period set for self-sufficiency in seeds to have been realised, though he also intimated an export oriented approach, in saying that Tanzania would be producing the best maize seeds in EAC zone. At present Tanzania basically excels in maize farming while the seeds are chiefly planted in Kenya, and Tanzania is a major market for them.

No one could take a different view from the minister if the idea is to encourage farming of maize seeds in the country, as obviously there is a large market for the produce. But it is a different matter if there is chiefly an intention of avoiding imports, as at times importing a product is more helpful is the conditions for its being produced in a country aren't ripe, for instance if it would be more costly to produce it at home than getting it from next door. Again the minister did not quite say what agro-agencies would be producing the 'best maize seeds in East Africa' but it appears be agro-research institutions, or field companies associated with them.

In what the minister was saying about maize seeds, it appears that some find it odd that the country gets maize seeds from next door, whereas the whole spirit of regional integration is to bring about synergies of the sort. It means that the country obtains good seeds (for maize or any other crop) from within the region, and that is likely to make it cheaper (or more competitive, to use a technical term) than having to obtain it from further afield, from US seed companies for instance. So there ought to be no rush about the issue, but if a research outfit or company is capable of producing quality seeds it should enter, compete for market share.

When such matters were being debated by economists in the decades before mid-19th century, as UK political parties rifted down the middle about protective and market economic policies, some theorists said it was in the nature of a country to produce one type of product, and another a different type of product. For instance Kenya has fewer acreage for maize farming compared to Tanzania, while it has a more advanced technical and credit environment for quality seeds production, on the little acreage it disposes for that crop specifically. Seeking to catch up in seed farming manu militari just because Kenya gains in exports is wrong.

At the same time, since Dr Tizeba also seems to relish in the fact that we sell maize to Kenya (and for that matter Zambia and other neighbors) what is wrong with our relying on seeds from next door? It is plausible for the minister to encourage local entrepreneurs to take up seed farming, but no one should sweet talk the government into sinking money into such a project just to plant our own seeds. In a market economy one takes the best produce (quality and price) as the right product, a principle which is constantly undercut by the rival slogan of cherishing what is local, a producer's slogan to get unfair advantage on the competitors.