Almost 70 per cent of the poor population live in rural areas, and almost all of them are involved in the farming sector. Land is a vital asset in ensuring food security, and among the nine main food crops in Tanzania are maize, sorghum, millet, rice, wheat, beans, cassava, potatoes, and bananas. The agricultural industry makes a large contribution to the country's foreign exchange earnings, with more than US$1 billion in earnings from cash crop exports.
Two years ago the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT) said it is preparing to take Tanzania’s subsistence agriculture to a higher level in order to feed 70 million mouths in the near future. This follows a field evaluation of farming and livelihoods in southern regions.
Commenting on the findings of the review, SAGCOT board chairman Salum Shamte said that the way out of the present quagmire was to transform peasants from subsistence farming to take agriculture as a rewarding business.
SAGCOT’s stakeholders believe that subsistence farming is unable to feed Tanzania’s present population of 50 million.
He said the SAGCOT team visited all southern regions, adding: “We cannot leave peasants on their own because we have witnessed how bad the situation is. There are various ways of helping them to make strides,” he said, without giving details.
Because of fears of a looming hunger and food shortages, Shamte said SAGCOT had no option but to go directly to peasants, train them, produce plenty of crops, add value to their crops and ensure they accessed reliable markets for their produce.
In the past 20 years (1991-2011) Tanzania’s agriculture grew at an annual average rate of 3.7 per cent, which was almost equal to Tanzania’s population growth and far below Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme’s (CAADP) projected farming growth of 6 per cent a year.
Minister for Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, Dr Charles Tizeba, was recently quoted saying farming productivity had to go up because “when we are talking of building industries, it means our agriculture will have to produce the largest part of the needed raw materials.”
Dr Tizeba said the contribution of the agriculture sector stood a better chance in realising Tanzania’s industrialised economy.
He also lauded SAGCOT efforts in transforming farmers from subsistence to commercial farming in the corridor, saying the government was committed to support their development and growth.
The SAGCOT’s Chief Executive Officer, Geoffrey Kirenga, said the Centre has decided that experience gained so far in working with peasants in the corridor should be used in other parts of Tanzania in order to open up new opportunities and solve challenges the peasants were currently facing.
Kirenga hinted that massive investments had been made in the corridor but said industries were not getting enough raw materials.
He thanked and named the SAGCOT funders as United Republic of Tanzania, UK Aid, USAID, World Bank Group, Norwegian Embassy, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and AGRA.
“SAGCOT has all the reasons to acknowledge the support from our funders who made our activities possible and visible,” Kirenga explained.