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.
With the failure of the April-June long rains in some areas and below-average rainfall in others, the number of people in need of assistance is expected to rise in the coming weeks.
“It is essential that we move quickly to break the destructive cycle of drought and hunger that forces farmers to sell their produce as part of their survival strategy,” Ms Sheeran said.
In Kenya, the number of people in need of food assistance is expected to rise from the current 2.4 million.
The scale of the increase, however, depends on an assessment in July.
The United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs said the price of grain in drought-affected areas of Kenya is 30 to 80 per cent above the five-year average, while in Ethiopia the consumer price index for food increased by almost 41 per cent last month.
Further food price hikes are expected in Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Somalia, but could ease after the next harvests later this year.
Several regions in Tanzania are also facing hunger and the authorities have called for good use of the available food resources.
Agriculture and Food Security Minister Jumanne Maghembe said in Dodoma last week that about 12 of the 21 regions of the country were facing food shortage.
They are Mwanza, Shinyanga, Mara, Tanga, Kilimanjaro, Arusha and Manyara, he said.
Prof Maghembe said regions with an average mark in terms of harvests include Tabora, Dodoma, Singida, Coastal and Kagera — excluding Muleba District, where the condition is critical.
Dodoma has requested 29,222 tonnes from the Prime Minister’s Office (Emergency Unit) for distribution to areas facing acute food shortage.
Chamwino District has requested 7,756 tonnes of grains for 130,200 people — including the old, orphans, widows and the disabled.
Kongwa needs 7,146 tonnes for 122,154 people; Bahi 5,715 tonnes for 97, 692 people; Kondoa 5,005 tonnes for 86,830 people; Dodoma Urban 4,226 tonnes for 72,239 people and Mpwapwa 4,008 tonnes for 69,513 people.
A Rural Vulnerability Assessment conducted in June projected that 1,253,500 people in Tanzania would face food insecurity.
Report by Mike Mande, Adam Ihucha and Leonard Magomba