Dar es Salaam: Agriculture performed relatively well during the first half of 2010, bringing a ray of hope to one of the country’s major sectors of the economy supporting about 80 per cent of the population. The sector, accounting for 25 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP), registered a growth of 4.5 per cent in the second quarter of 2010, according to data released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), indicating it could be back on the right track. It grew by 3.2 per cent in 2009 compared to 4.6 per cent in 2008.
The decline in growth last year negatively impacted on the sector’s GDP contribution which shrank from 25.7 to 24.6 per cent in 2008 and 2009, respectively.
The NBS attributes the increase during the second quarter of 2010 to high yields of major food crops. 'The quantity of maize harvested went up by 10.0 per cent from 585 tonnes in the second quarter of 2009 to 643 tonnes in the second quarter of 2010,' says the NBS in its GDP of Mainland Tanzania report for the second quarter of 2010.
Paddy harvested also increased from 338 tonnes in the second quarter of 2009 to 358 tonnes in the corresponding quarter of 2010, while millet/sorghum harvests went up by two per cent from 293 tonnes in the second quarter of 2009 to 299 tonnes in the corresponding quarter of 2010. In the meantime, cassava harvests increased by 10 per cent from 973 tonnes in the second quarter of 2009 to 1,071 tonnes in the second quarter of 2010.
However, analysts say it is too early to celebrate because the 2010 performance are still inadequate to bring meaningful changes on the lives of farmers, a majority of whom are smallholders.
'These achievements are too little to celebrate for we have, and so has the World Bank, always said that for agriculture to bring meaningful changes to Tanzanians, the sector’s growth rate has to be between eight and 10 per cent each year,' said Dr Damian Gabagambi, a senior researcher with the Dar es Salaam-based Research on Poverty Alleviation (Repoa).
He said the current seasonal growth did not mean that the government had done enough to boost the sector, but was a result of normal fluctuation in the economy.
'In my view the growth is neither a result of subsidised fertilizer nor Kilimo Kwanza (Agriculture First) initiative. It is only a reflection that we had good rains during the first months of 2010, which resulted in increased harvest,' he told The Citizen over the phone.
His concerns were based on the fact that the country’s agriculture is still heavily dependent on rainfall. Available data show that only 326,492 hectares of land is currently under irrigation, while the country has 2.3 million hectares of land with high irrigation potential. As a result, since 1985, Tanzania’s overall agricultural GDP has grown at an average annual rate of 3.3 per cent, while the main food crops and agricultural exports have been increasing at 3.5 and 5.4 per cent annually, respectively.
Analysts say for the country to at least halve poverty by 2015, the sector should be growing in the range of six to seven per cent. Mr Stephen Ruvuga, the executive director for Mviwata - a National network of smallholder farmers - shared Dr Gabagambi’s sentiments, saying the statistics do not reflect the reality of the lives of farmers, majority of whom are smallholders.
'I think the growth is basically in numbers and not in what is actually taking place on the ground. A meaningful change is the one that is translated into lives of farmers,' he told The Citizen over the phone from Morogoro.
A sound agricultural performance, he said, should be based on consideration for food sufficiency. 'Unfortunately, our agriculture is still heavily dependent on rain and other climate-related features. Some areas are still facing food shortages. I really doubt the authenticity of most of the statistics that are related to economic growth,’ he said.
According to him, the available data might be based on performance of traditional exports. And, basing on Bank of Tanzania’s (BoT) Monthly Economic Review (MER) for October 2010, the value of Tanzania’s seven traditional exports grew by five per cent to $492.3 million in September 2010. The bank attributes the growth to increase in both volumes and unit prices of tobacco and tea.
Analysts say the country is required to initiate a focused strategy for specific crops and farmers if agriculture is to make meaningful impact on the people’s livelihood. They suggest that the country should stop a tendency of promoting all crops and all farmers at once, without considering the country’s economic ability.
'Crops and farmers should be classified so that we have specific strategies for specific categories of crops and farmers - the current blanket approach will not help,' says Dr Gabagambi in one of his papers.
He stresses that the country needs to select special crops and attach special importance to them as food and export crops.
'The selected crops should be declared ‘crops of strategic national interest’. The state should devote its resources to the selected crops in terms of credit, mechanization, and irrigation among others,' he says in personal comments (not reflecting the official position of the institutions that he works for).
The government should then institute a price support mechanism on the selected crops. The price support should be the one that assures selected farmers for the selected crops to recover their production costs and make a small profit margin of at least ten per cent, says the expert.