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Improved irrigation to unlock potential in agriculture

Improved irrigation to unlock potential in agriculture

TANZANIA’S economic base depends on the prosperity of its farmers and the government has done much to improve the opportunities open to cash and food crop farmers.

However, there will have to be major investments in the rural areas in irrigation farming if this progress is to be sustained over the next decades. Agriculture, the country’s mainstay of the national economy, is the biggest contributor to Tanzania’s economic wellbeing and will continue to be the oldest economic activity in the years to come.

Tanzanian farmers are in the forefront of the current drive to restructure the economy along more self-reliant lines. It is the government’s effort to address the current agricultural practices that have in most cases been characterised by crop production influenced by erratic and unreliable rainfall.

The development of irrigation sector has an unprecedented opportunity to facilitate the Tanzania agriculture sector to be transformed from subsistence to a modern and highly commercial sector. The government is currently giving high priority to irrigation development which is emphasized within the National policy frameworks.

The government is also giving high priority to the management of the nation’s water resources. This offers strong synergies between the water and irrigation sectors in irrigation development.

“With weather vagaries, climate change and natural calamities standing on the way of the Tanzanian farmer, irrigation farming remains the key sector in attaining food self-sufficiency," says Daudi Kaali, the Acting Director General of the National Irrigation Commission (NIRC).

The Commission is a body corporate that is responsible for coordination, promotional and regulatory functions in the development of the irrigation sector. Day to day activities of the Commission is managed by the Director General under the guidance of the Governing Board of ten members.

Establishment of the Commission stems from the fact that Tanzania has irrigation potential area of 29.4 million hectares whereby 2.3 million hectares is of high potential, 4.8 million hectares is of medium potential and 22.3 million hectares is of low potential.

Out of this potential area 461,326 hectares equivalent to 1.6% of the area under irrigation has been developed and contributes 24% of the national food requirement as of June 2017.

According to the Commission, the current area under irrigation comprises of 2,418 irrigation schemes distributed across the country of which 124 are fully operational and provided with some basic irrigation infrastructures while the remaining 2,294 comprises incomplete and deteriorated irrigation infrastructures including traditional irrigation schemes characterized with temporary irrigation infrastructures and hence low water and crop productivity.

Irrigation is required to increase to 1,000,000 hectares by year 2025 through government and development partners’ support, says Kaali. Efforts of farmers have been greatly reinforced by the government policy over the years, which at last appears to have succeeded in re-establishing agriculture as the central economic force in society.

Agriculture touches the lives virtually of everyone in society. More than 70 per cent of Tanzanians work directly in the agricultural sector – as producers, or in the marketing and distributive sub-sectors. Millions more are indirectly dependent on the agricultural sector for their employment.

Agriculture’s contribution to the national income is set to rise substantially in the decades to come. Accurate analysis of agriculture’s role is made difficult by the lack of statistics – production of most food crops is probably much higher than the official statistics.

“Policy reforms introduced by the government have helped to boost productivity and incomes on the farms,” says Kaali. The reforms include the formulation of the national agriculture policy, national irrigation policy and the Tanzania Agriculture and Food Security Investment Plan, just to mention a few.

In Tanzania large scale private sector participation in agricultural production remains problematic. About 90 per cent of food consumed in Tanzania is produced by smallholder farmers using traditional methods.

The private sector is undecided about its role in the agricultural sector – that is whether it should continue to acquire large farms or to focus on agro-industrial investments based on out-grower or cooperative processors. Large scale investments in rice and wheat growing have achieved varying levels of success.

Local rice production meets about half local demand, but local wheat production meets less than a tenth of demand. However, the position of the food crop farmers has improved markedly since the government limited imports of wheat, rice, maize and barley which saved millions of Tanzanian shillings in foreign exchange.

Agriculture in Tanzania, says Kaali, has the potential not just to save foreign exchange, but could again become a major earner for foreign exchange.

He says Tanzanian farmers’ ability to take advantage of the global trends in the marketing of farm produce will depend not just on their own productivity but on substantial public investments in irrigation infrastructure in the rural areas where irrigation schemes exist.

Much of this investment should be directed towards reinforcing existing policies and initiatives – the World Bank-backed agricultural development programmes providing extension services on a state wide basis and the irrigation projects undertaken by the NIRC.

Banks in rural areas now have to lend at least 50 per cent of their deposits to finance productive activities, but bankers say that most smallholder farmers cannot meet their criteria. Unless access to credit is improved, the government’s strategy of progressively withdrawing subsidies on supplies of fertilizer and other inputs will hamper rather than foster growth.

With a population growing at 3.8 per cent a year and an industrial sector drawing increasingly on local raw materials, Tanzania’s agricultural sector will face increasingly pressure to modernize and boost yields substantially.

Kaali and his counterparts within the National Irrigation Commission believe that the next phase of Tanzania’s farm revolution cannot be far away as the country is endowed with large tracts of arable and virgin land. Tanzania has the potential to be one of Africa’s richest economies but to achieve its potential the mainstay agricultural sector which employs the majority people, must be transformed through investment in irrigation farming, explains Kaali.

“Tanzania has an enormous resource base which, if developed, could transform the country into one of the richest nations in the continent,” he explains. This assertion is also supported by Engineer Senzia Maeda, the NIRC Acting Director of Irrigation Infrastructure Development.

He says investment in irrigation infrastructure would propel Tanzania to greater heights in terms of food self-sufficiency and in revolutionising the agricultural sector that employs more than 70 Tanzanians living in the rural areas.

“To encourage greater agricultural and industrial production we need to invest in irrigation farming as we have a huge fertile land (29.4 million hectares of irrigable land) and water resources,” he says. Today, the old socialist Tanzania is disappearing by the day as it has eagerly embraced free-market policies and modernizing infrastructure under President Magufuli.

A series of reforms in various key sectors of the national economy, including agriculture, -- hitherto unthinkable during the past decades -- has rekindled hopes among prospective investors. Experts charged to leverage on prospects of the agriculture sector, say it brings with its potential for creating wealth to grow the economy as well as tackle the growing unemployment in the country.

Some Tanzanians erroneously believe that the agricultural sector was about farming only, while, in fact that farming constitutes only five per cent of the entire agricultural chain. In the past two decades, say experts, agriculture has become 90 per cent science and 10 per cent strength and energy.

To be able to embark on science-enhanced agriculture, people must be educated. “Some of the most educated we have in our country today are serving in boards of companies -- they are shareholders; they are decision-makers and risk takers. Therefore, they should move towards agriculture value chain but not necessarily just farming. In so doing, they’ll be creating a better country for Tanzania,” says Seif Abdallah, a private sugarcane farmer at Mtibwa in Morogoro Region.

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