Tanzania’s agricultural sector decline impedes quality of growth of the economy
Recent macroeconomic trends in Tanzania show a sustained GDP growth rate averaging 7% per annum over the past one and a half decades.
However, the rate of poverty reduction in the country has remained dismal, leading to questions regarding the quality of its growth, including its sectorial composition.
A notable feature of this trend is slow growth in the agricultural sector, averaging 4% during the same period, which is much below the targeted growth of 10% needed to induce a significant reduction of poverty. The relationship between agricultural growth and poverty reduction is rooted in economic structure that allocates factors of production, particularly labor and capital, and the underlying technology conditions that determine labor-output and earning relations.
In a country like Tanzania, where its labor force is predominantly (66.3%) engaged in agriculture and 85% of all the poor (who fall below the poverty line) is in rural areas, growth in the agricultural sector is necessary for poverty reduction.
Various studies have established that agricultural productivity growth is a central condition for economic growth and transformation in developing countries. This is because agriculture provides the best opportunity for the majority of the workforce in developing countries such as Tanzania to not only get employed but also trade their way out of poverty.
Indeed, research has shown that agriculture driven growth is up to four times more likely to reduce poverty than growth generated from any other sector in developing economies. Efforts to improve efficiency and productivity in Tanzania’s agricultural sector are therefore crucial for transforming livelihood at the bottom of the pyramid.
Based on the results from a survey conducted in 2016 by OXFAM Tanzania, findings revealed that improving farmers’ livelihoods would entail concerted efforts by the government to avail to farmers, quality and affordable seeds, fertilizer, agricultural infrastructures, subsidies, extension services, markets, information alert, affordable loans, and areas for pastures.
The survey was conducted following critical challenges of poverty reduction Tanzania has been facing despite a remarkable GDP growth over the past two decades. This is because economic growth in Tanzania is not inclusive, in that sector contributing to this growth employs fewer people.
Meanwhile, agriculture continues to employ the majority of people in Tanzania. It is against this background that any efforts to improve livelihoods of the people should thus be geared towards transforming the agricultural sector with special attention on smallholder farmers who occupy a significant portion of the workforce of the economy.
Every solution designed by the government must, therefore, be geared towards addressing such challenges confronting peasant farmers in the country. In this context, a study was set out to examine the challenges facing farmers and their respective solutions.
Sustainable Livelihood Framework was used to inform the analysis of the study. Findings, however, show that a typical smallholder farmer in Tanzania is youthful, married, poor, equipped with a low level of education, and having many children (at least four). These characteristics usually entangle farmers in the vicious cycle of poverty.
Transforming agriculture is thus the only way out for most of these farmers. Further, farmers face diverse challenges on a daily basis. It was thus logical to draw these challenges from farmers. Some of the challenges drawn from these farmers were as follows:
- Lack of access to loans
- Inadequate subsidies
- Access to market
- Information alert on agriculture-related issues
- Persistent drought
- Availability of quality and affordable seeds
- Access to pastures
- Availability of technical advice
- Availability of quality and affordable fertilizers
- Availability of agricultural infrastructures and
- Availability of water.
Approaches farmers employ to solving their problems
Some of the solutions suggested by farmers to address this challenges they face are by and large neither sustainable nor appropriate for productive farming.
Also, coping mechanisms that farmers use to solve their challenges include:
- Securing loans from friends and relatives
- Migrating to access markets and pastures, fertilizers and water
- Using readily available inputs such as natural fertilizers
- Prioritizing only important needs
- Cultivating crop which are drought resistant
- Forming groups for both animal keepers and farmers for easy access of loans and helping them in case needs arise
- Applying irrigation
- Avoiding to burn crop remnants so as they can be recycled as fertilizers
- Selling some of kept animals and
- Borrowing from relative and friends.
Ways government can solve challenges
It is interesting to note that the majority of farmers continue to place their trust on government when it comes to problem solving. Priority areas that these farmers would like the government to concentrate on while helping them include ensuring:
- Availability of quality and affordable seeds
- Availability of advice from experts
- Availability of quality and affordable fertilizer
- Availability of quality agricultural infrastructures
- Availability of subsidies
- Access to markets
- Availability of information alert
- Availability of affordable loans
- Availability of pastures for feeding animals and
- Access to water.
Priorities of smaller scale farmers
Farmers’ priority areas could only be met if the government allocates enough funds to agricultural sector.
However, the government has not only failed to adhere to its commitment on the Maputo Declaration that requires African Union member states to allocate at least 10% of national budget to agricultural sector but also an alarming declining trend on funds allocated to agriculture can be observed over the course of past four years.
The decline in budget allocation to agricultural sector in real terms has meant that some of the key services cannot be accessed by farmers. Such services include:
- Quality seeds
- Quality pesticides and insecticides
- Extension services
- Information alert relevant to farming
- New/improved agricultural infrastructure
- Farming techniques training
- Accessibility to markets and
- Availability of loans.
It is therefore strongly argued at this juncture that the government of Tanzania needs to rethink its position and allocate more funds to the agricultural sector. In fact, doing so will be in line with Tanzania’s Vision which aspires that Tanzania should become a semi-industrialized country by 2025 with agro-processing being at the center of the said industrialization process.
It is also remarkably interesting to note that farmers cultivate crops and keep animals that fall under priority agricultural products that have been earmarked in the Second Five Years Development Plan as raw materials for envisaged industries.
Therefore, to understand the challenges and priorities of farmers in their activities, the government must be involved in their activities in terms of ensuring availability of subsidies, loans, quality inputs, infrastructure, information alert, extension services as well as access to markets by farmers.
As has been stated time and again, transforming agriculture is the only way to achieve inclusive growth and in turn improving livelihoods of the poor more especially the farmers. Investing in agriculture should thus be a no brainer to the government of Tanzania.