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Hunger across EA triggers food smuggling

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Trucks wait to cross into Tanzania from Kenya at the Namanga border post. Cross-border trade with Burundi, DRC and Rwanda could also cause food shortages. Pictures: File

Trucks wait to cross into Tanzania from Kenya at the Namanga border post. Cross-border trade with Burundi, DRC and Rwanda could also cause food shortages. Pictures: File 

By JOINT REPORT

Posted  Sunday, July 3  2011 at  11:53
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Tanzania is staring at a food crisis in the coming months as it emerges that tonnes of food are being smuggled out to drought-stricken countries in the region despite falling harvests.

Police estimate that more than 400 tonnes of maize are being trucked out of the country every day through Kilimanjaro region to Kenya, Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia.

The Deputy Minister for Agriculture, Food Security and Co-operatives, Christopher Chiza, told The East African from Dodoma last week that hoarding and smuggling of food crops by opportunistic traders are to blame for the current high prices and shortages in the local market.

Mr Chiza said the traders are taking advantage of drought in some areas and higher prices in neighbouring countries to hoard the commodities.

“They speculate that food prices will rise even higher if the dry spell persists,” he said, adding that the country has abundant food stocks due to previous bumper harvests.

To address the problem, the government plans to offload a portion of the food grains currently held by the National Food Reserve Authority, to areas facing food deficits.

The government said food demand stands at about 11.1 millions tonnes a year, whereas food harvests as of February this year stood at 12.2 million tonnes, translating to a surplus of 1.1 million tonnes.

Cereals accounted for about seven million tonnes while other crops accounted for 4.9 million metric tonnes.

Tarime and Rorya Special Police Zone Commander Constantine Massawe, speaking from Tarime last week, said they have already impounded eight trucks loaded with 56 tonnes of cereals headed for Kenya, Somalia and Sudan at Sirari border post. Mr Massawe said the trucks were seized after a tip-off by villagers.

Active cross-border trade with neighbouring countries like Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Kenya could also cause food shortages in the region.

The government has already imposed an export ban in an effort to reduce outflows and is offloading food from the government reserves to regulate the prices. But so far, these efforts have not yielded the anticipated results.

Consumers in Kenya, Somalia and Sudan — who are facing acute food shortages — pay up to $52 (Tshs 80,000) for a 90-kg bag of maize, against $32 (Tsh50,000) that the bag fetches in Tanzania.

International humanitarians agencies say three years of below-average rainfall have led to a deterioration of pasture and particularly affected pastoralist communities in northern regions such as Arusha, Ngorongoro and Kilimanjaro.

Josette Sheeran, executive director of the World Food Programme, said the food crisis in East Africa has left an estimated 14 million people struggling to survive due to widespread poor and erratic rainfall, combined with rising food prices in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Uganda.

Ms Sheeran said hunger is looming across the Horn of Africa, threatening the lives of millions of people already facing rising food prices and internal conflict.

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