Fertiliser subsidy scheme appraisal offers success story

A NATIONWIDE assessment carried out to determine successes and drawbacks of a government programme launched last year to provide fertiliser subsidy to smallholder farmers to enable them increase production, is reported to have been a stimulus to successful development of the sector’s growth.

Escalating fertiliser prices in the international market last year compelled Tanzania to set aside 150bn/- as subsidy to help its millions of smallholders meet their basic food and nutrition requirements and farmer income.

The plan also took into consideration that stagnant smallholder production and vulnerability to natural disasters and the effects of climate change are barriers to growth and that there was need to enhance national systems and adopt an integrated approach to food security.

Although Tanzania is one of the sub Saharan Africa’s largest producers of maize, production by smallholder farmers is stagnant: low yields result from poor market linkages, lack of access to inputs and minimal value addition and post-harvest losses that reach 40 percent.

Furthermore, country surveys conducted by the World Food Programme (WFP) have shown that there is little collaboration among farmers’ organisations, input suppliers, traders and processors, and so smallholders have limited access to post-harvest technologies, financing, insurance, information, extension services and inputs.

“All these factors taken together led the government to introduce the fertilizer subsidy scheme in the 2022/2023 farming season to transform the agriculture sector. The main aim of this programme is that it must provide food for the people and raw materials for industries,” says Dr. Stephan Ngailo, Executive Director of the Tanzania Fertiliser Regulatory Authority (TFRA).

TFRA is a state-run agency charged with the mandate of ensuring timely availability of quality fertiliser and fertiliser supplements (FFS) to all farmers in Tanzania at affordable prices. It also regulates the manufacturing, importation, domestic distribution, storage and exportation of fertilisers.

The programme is a brainchild of President Samia Suluhu Hassan’s government to uplift millions of farmers in the country. This scheme has won acclaim among registered farmers and enabled the government to identify the challenges to eliminating hunger and increasing incomes to the peasantry constituting 80 percent of the country’s more than 62 million people, explains Dr Ngailo.

“The subsidy plan has been a key incentive for farmers to strive for increased production.  The centrality of agriculture must penetrate the economic life of the vast majority and yield a changing pattern of resource distribution that allows the emergence of other economic sectors,” he says.

Through the use of a digital platform, in the 2022/2023 farming season, TFRA with collaboration of local government authorities registered 3,050,419 farmers countrywide as of May 3 this year. These farmers were included in the scheme to allow the growth of the rural sector as a market for other sectors.

The national priority of this “lift-the-farmer” strategy, according to Dr Ngailo, is to broaden access to agricultural land for commercial production and subsistence farming.

He says based on the gains recorded during the 2022/2023 farming season, the government has extended the programme for two other seasons (2023/2024/2025) as part of its reform policy to boost productivity and incomes on the farms.

“Agriculture’s contribution to the national income is set to rise substantially in the coming years as smallholders have responded enthusiastically to double production because of the fertiliser subsidy incentive,” notes Dr Ngailo.

However, where there is success, challenges abound. The fertilizer subsidy scheme is no exception; it was hampered by the centuries-old patterns ruled by the rhythm of the seasons, Dr Ngailo explains. Weather is the overpowering force determining economic output. In this case, it adversely affected crop farming in many parts of the country apart from the Southern Highlands regions of Iringa, Njombe, Mbeya, Rukwa and Katavi where there was plenty of rainfall as farmers expect bumper harvests.

Like other African countries, Tanzania has limited institutional and technical capacities to address the effects of climate change on food security. Government’s climate change strategy aims to enhance resilience and reduce the vulnerability of natural and social systems.

“Implementation of the subsidy programme for the following twin seasons as per government directives will hinge on lessons learned from the introductory programme of the 2022/2023 season,” Dr Ngailo says, adding, “problems such as lack of capital among fertiliser agents (especially in rural areas) will definitely find solutions.”

“We have discovered that when the price of fertilizer declines, the demand of the commodity also goes up as farmers scramble for it. This is a sign of encouragement that our farmers are aware of the importance of the commodity,” he said in a recent interview on how investment inputs (including fertiliser) have raised agricultural productivity.

His views are echoed by pineapple farmer Mbaraka Mtengwa of Fukayosi village in Bagamoyo district. “Last year, I was supposed to spend 18m/- for buying fertilizer for my 20-hectare farm. I only ended up cultivating two hectares because of the exorbitant fertiliser prices. Now I have bought 30 bags of the commodity as I prepare for the next season,” he says.

“The government fertiliser subsidy plan will have positive effect in increased agricultural productivity in future if it is well-executed to reach the intended recipients.”

As philosopher Napolean Hill once said, the starting point of all achievement is desire. For Tanzanian farmers this desire must lead them to achieve what they want to achieve.

•  The writer is a Tanzanian journalist and can be reached via email: alphanuhu1952@gmail.com or mobile +255785045950

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