The East African Community Secretariat wants its hunger-stricken partner states to contact Tanzania for emergency food procurement.
EAC Director for Economics Dr Nyamajeje Weggoro, told The EastAfrican that under the Common Market protocol, the partner states with food surplus are required to remove non-tariff barriers to allow free movement of food within the region.
Dr Weggoro said that the EAC believes that Tanzania’s ban on food export is an in-house protective measure and does not mean that it has locked out “its hungry partner states from purchasing emergency food.”
Dr Weggoro particularly implored Kenya to open talks with Tanzania to obtain food for its starving population.
Responding to a question by The EastAfrican, whether Tanzania has breached the Common Market Protocol by banning food exports, he said: “In my understanding, Tanzania hasn’t breached the Protocol by imposing a ban on food exports because the EAC countries are still sovereign states,” said Dr Weggoro.
Tanzania’s change of heart
With a severe drought ravaging the Horn and East Africa, Tanzania has asked drought-affected countries to negotiate directly with it at government level to procure food for their vulnerable populations.
“Neighbouring countries confronted with a food crisis are welcome to deal directly with the government instead of farmers, traders or agents in border regions for food purchases,” said Prof Jumanne Maghembe, Tanzania’s Minister For Agriculture, Food Security and Co-operatives.
Prof Maghembe said Tanzania has a food surplus of 1.7 million tonnes that it is considering selling to the EAC members.
Tanzania’s move comes against a backdrop of rampant food smuggling to neighbouring countries. Police in Arusha recently impounded several trucks that were said to be carrying grains to Kenya.
Tanzania police estimates that more than 400 tonnes of maize is trucked daily out of the country through Mara, Arusha and Kilimanjaro regions to Kenya, South Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia.
Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda are among the drought-affected countries.
According to Josette Sheeran, executive director of the UN World Food Programme, the food crisis in the region has left at least 10 million people food insecure due to widespread poor and erratic rainfall, combined with rising food prices in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Uganda.
Ms Sheeran said hunger was looming across the region, 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 coming weeks.
“We should 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.