This is Part 3 in our food and politics series.
- Part 1: How food and milk will bring peace to conflicts in Africa
- Part 2: Farmers in western Kenya show how Africa can feed itself
Seif Kabelele examines cost of food in Tanzania and concludes that if the state’s agriculture plan fails it won’t be because the many hands working on it didn’t swing but because they swung but missed.
Tuzo Mapunda, a resident of Tanzania’s commercial capital Dar es Salaam, was stung by a 20 percent increase in the price of bread. He lamented that the bread that he used to buy at Tsh500 ($0.22) now costs Tsh600 ($0.26), and the one he previously bought at Tsh1,000 ($0.43) now costs Tsh1,200 ($0.52).
"If things continue to be this bad, I don't think we will be able to eat three meals a day," he said.
Not only has the price of bread risen, but practically all snacks and nibbles made from wheat.
Rehema Hussein, a petty food trader at Tabata in Dar, said that since she decided to raise the price of some of her products, the number of her customers has dropped.
"Wheat, cooking oil, cornmeal and rice are sold at high costs,” she said. "We are compelled to charge a high price. I used to have up to 100 customers a day, but now I've lost at least 20.”
Tanzanian Ministry of Trade data confirms an increase in the cost of all grain crops in markets across all regions.In June 2022, the wheat price was Tsh196, 240 ($85.3), up 61 percent over the same month the previous year, according to the data.
The average cost of a 100kg bag of maize has climbed by 93 percent to Tsh88, 019 ($38.2). The cost of rice, beans, and sorghum has increased by 34 percent, five percent, and 21 percent respectively.
Who to blame
Hussein Sufian, corporate affairs director for Bakhresa Group, one of the largest companies in Tanzania that trades in a range of products, including food and beverages, is clear about what to blame for the wheat price hikes – the Russia-Ukraine war and the resulting blockade and mining of the Black Sea trade route for one of the world’s biggest producers of wheat and cooking oil.
This global disruption has illustrated in a stark way the fact that Tanzania's annual domestic wheat consumption estimated to be more than 1 million tonnes per year is miles away from being met by the country's yearly production of just 93,184 tonnes, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. As a result, Tanzania imports the majority of the wheat it uses.
The situation is becoming much more problematic due to increases in transportation expenses brought about by rising oil prices. Despite government initiatives, fuel prices in Tanzania are at their highest and continue to rise.
But Deputy Minister of Investment, Industry and Trade Exaud Kigahe sees some signs of hope. He said the prices are beginning to fall due to various reasons, including the government's efforts to encourage small-scale industries to increase production, and decreased duty on imported crude oil to zero per cent in the 2022/23 budget.
But there are many fronts on which the battle to keep food on Tanzanian tables will have to be won. Farmers in the western Katavi region are using synthetic manure to shorten the ripening period of their crops, but things aren’t so rosy for them this time.
Shija Mashala, a farmer who grows maize in the Kasekese village, said he feared the price for a 50kg bag of fertiliser might reach Tsh102,000 ($45) soon, an unprecedented figure.
"To fertilise one acre, we need at least two bags, costing TSh204,000 ($90). Imagine if you had to do ten acres,” he said.
Climate conditions have conspired to darken the picture. Based on current trends, Mashala projected that the Katavi region's maize situation was “bad” and that the unpredictable rainfall would prevent them from producing as much as in past years.
"With this drought, we won't have a crop. We won't have enough money to purchase fertiliser.”
Glory Lukenda, one of the fertiliser salespeople at Mpory Matamba II, confirmed that the cost of fertiliser has increased.
"Urea was sold at Tsh55,000 ($24) for a 50kg bag last season, whereas DAP was sold for Tsh71,000 ($31). These prices have nearly quadrupled."
“Most of the fertilizer we rely on comes from Morocco and other countries in the world,” he said, adding that issues (delays) at the border [with Kenya] and transportation contribute to the high costs.
Faridu Abdallah, the regional agriculture officer for Katavi, observed that in addition to the Russia-Ukraine war, the knock-on effects of Covid-19, which threw supply lines into disarray, have contributed to the grim fertiliser outlook.
Against this, from the ends of the field, innovation in the food sector continues to hold out the prospects of better outcomes. Some 6.9 million farmers in the nation will soon be a part of the mobile “kilimo” system, which connects them over the phone with extension officials and other agricultural experts in various regions.
Former Minister of Agriculture Japhet Hasunga launched the system on May 18, 2020. The Ministry has set a deadline of December 2022 to complete the registration of the 6.9 million farmers, which was the target as of July 2021. To date, the system has registered two million farmers.
With 6,970 extension officers nationwide, there is one officer for every 727 people on average. Depending on their needs, a single officer can assist between 20 and 50 farmers in a day.
In most African countries, there is just one extension worker for every 1,000 farmers, according to Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (Agra), which means that governments have underinvested in extension services.
Does it add up? According to data from Tanzania's NBS, 6.7 percent of the country's households, or 7.6 million families, were involved in agriculture, livestock, and fisheries last year.
With an estimated 58 million people, data suggests that at least three of every four people work in agriculture, which accounts for more than a quarter of the country's GDP.
Despite popular claims about a country shifting to services, agriculture still accounts for the largest portion of GDP, supplies the majority of industries' raw materials, and employs the greatest proportion of the labour force.
Tanzania's agriculture has been growing in actual terms from Tsh21.8 trillion ($9.2 billion) in 2012 to Tsh32.2 trillion ($14 billion) in 2020.
The administration has avoided the "changey economy" narrative in its policy declarations, keeping to the facts, and emphasising the issues that have affected agriculture since independence.
Some of these factors are under the control of both the government and farmers, but they must be managed if agriculture is to flourish.
One of the main causes of underperformance in agriculture is reliance on rain. Another is the global economic system. Buyers of cash crops from wealthy, industrialised nations set the prices they pay farmers in developing nations, while fixing the costs of the farm equipment and supplies they sell to these countries.
Industrialised nations also give their farmers billions of dollars in subsidies so they may "compete" with subpar farmers in underdeveloped nations. In these circumstances, no amount of productivity growth can save African farmers from financial ruin.
The government has gone further down in the trenches. The budget for the Ministry of Agriculture was raised sharply from Tsh294 billion ($127.8 million) in 2021/2022 to Tsh751.1 billion ($327 million), an increase of nearly 250 percent.
Big money push
Agricultural research, seed production, irrigation, building warehouses, improving extension services, and expanding access to fertiliser by subsidising and removing Value Added Tax for locally produced commodities are some of the areas that the agricultural budget provided for.
Irrigation is specifically given about half of the budget, an increase of more than eight times over the previous financial year's budget. In the fiscal year 2022–2023, the government intends to spend Tsh361.5 ($157 million).
The budget for extension services increased o from Tsh11.5 billion ($5 million) to Tsh15 billion ($6.5 million).
The most practical plan for the country's goal of creating eight million new jobs in five years (2020-2025) is youth and women participation in agriculture.
The adoption of District Agricultural Development Plans (DADPs) will hasten the development of employment, promote food security and boost regional and national income.
There is hope for the growth of Tanzania's food systems with programmes like DADPs. There is still much to be done, including offering the participants in the agricultural value chains business development services.
These services help micro and small farmers' operations grow and become more profitable.
If the magic doesn’t happen, it won’t be because the many hands in Tanzania working to ensure all are well fed didn’t swing. It will be because they swung but missed.