HOW will Zanzibar achieve its long term goal to produce enough rice for its people and minimize importation from abroad?
This is the question that people and authorities here have been trying to answer by investing in farming. At least by early this year there were hopes of increased rice production with authorities saying they were on track to achieve its ambition of producing enough rice.
But climate change came up along way with its devastating effects on rice farms. It caused heavy downpour early this year leading to floods that disrupted agricultural activities and led to some crop losses.
The Minister for Agriculture, Natural Resources, Livestock, and Fishing, Mmanga Mjengo Mjawir, said rice production fell from 47,507.1 tonnes in 2018 to 46,472 tonnes last year (about 2.2 per cent drop). Production of vegetables and fruits also declined by 18 per cent – from 52,667 tonnes in 2018 to 43,080 tonnes last year, he said.
He said climate change led to heavy down pour of about 868 millimetres this year causing floods destroying rice and other farms. Rice has been the second crop to be grown in large scale after cassava last year.
Food security is already being impacted in a number of African countries and researchers are studying suggestive links between climate change and low food production.
Rice was cultivated on about 27,374.96 acres (28 per cent of the farming) mainly rain dependence farming, and including 2,600.71 acres by irrigation, the Minister said here when discussing about the onple going efforts to increase rice production.
It was during the Ministry’s budget estimates for the year 20202/2021. According to the Minister Mjawir, despite the challenge the plan for 2020/2021 to increase production remains a priority as the government improves infrastructure for irrigation for at least 65 hectares and rehabilitation of 87 hectares under the ‘Expanding Rice Production Project (ERPP).’
“We target producing rice to at least 50,000 tonnes annually on average. We are increasing support to farmers include provision of farm tractors for land clearance and ploughing, as subsidy of farm inputs remains,” he said adding that about 33,800 acres (include 20,800 acres in Pemba).
He said that there has been a follow-up of irrigation infrastructure of 600 hectares in Chaani, Kilombero, and Cheju valleys for rice farming in Unguja, and Makwararani and Mlemele valleys in Pemba Islands.
With support from some development countries like Indonesia, China, and South Korea, Zanzibar has, in the past two decades, been trying to increase rice production for its more than 1.3 million people, food security, and probably export surplus.
Zanzibar needs at least 80,000 tonnes of rice annually to meet the needs of its population, but efforts to increase production are focused on 50,000 tonnes target which means the country has to continue relying heavily on imports.
People here consume rice imported from Tanzania mainland (mainly Mbeya and Morogoro), Pakistan, India, and from some Far East countries [like China, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Since 2011, when Ali Mohamed Shein took over as President introduced “The Agriculture Revolution/ Transformation Programme” with aim to increase rice production and end importation of the Zanzibaris staple food.
The government has tried to address challenges: insufficient farming skills and technology, shortage of land, and now it has to struggle with emerging impacts of climate change causing drought, sea water rise, or heavy rains.
The government offers agricultural subsidies to rice farmers by covering 75 per cent of the cost of agro-inputs. For example they purchase inputs- Hansunil herbicide from China, and fertilizers, and the cost of land tilling of ploughing at subsidized price.
These cumulative efforts along with training of more than 500 farmers through ERPP have substantially increased the rice yields from 39,000 tonnes in 2017 to 48,118 tonnes in 2018, but the government wants to see an increase.
In December 2018, the Ministry of Agriculture, Natural Resources, Livestock and Fisheries, signed an agreement with a contractor from the Republic of Korea for the construction of irrigation infrastructure that covers a total of 1524 hectares.
The irrigation plan is being implemented in collaboration with other development partners under a ten-year agricultural project dabbed ‘Zanzibar Agricultural Sector Development Programme (ZASDP).’ Despite challenges in farming which include climate, researches indicate that Zanzibar can still increase rice production through irrigation.
The Zanzibaris are encouraged to utilize the opportunities citing the development partners who have extended a supporting hand. Training of more Field Extension Officers (FEOs), having enough farming tractors, and other important farm equipment, are other ongoing plans to ensure farmers double production.
Zanzibar has set about 8,521 hectares of land for rice production through irrigation farming and the archipelago had previously targeted to produce at least 50 per cent of the required rice by end of this year (2020).
Agricultural experts had advised Zanzibar farmers grow different kinds of rice which include New Rice for Africa (NERICA), a type of rice developed by the Africa Rice Centre (AfricaRice) to improve the yield of African rice varieties.
Other types of rice grown include: Super-India which takes four months; BKN-Supa (90 days); TxD 306; and TxD 88 which both take 120 days.