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Reflections on 2020 agriculture performance

EVEN as we wrap up activities for the year 2020, reflections are already underway trying to get in especially by way of remembering notable incidences that really got everyone shocked after they happened mostly unpredictably.

The year was entirely turbulent to many and opportune moment to some others. The reason as to why this is so important is that – contrary to what many imagine – agriculture is also part and parcel of the great economic, political and geographical web that binds everybody into it, meaning if the other sector is affected agriculture responds proportionally.

The following are two major scourges that appeared to have inflicted so much pain in the sector. In the subsequent weeks we may need to look more on others or expound further on these two issues; Coronavirus pandemic This is quite a new form of disease among all the plague that ever hit this planet.

This nasty bug didn’t start in Tanzania, but the fact that Tanzania is ‘involuntary’ tied to other countries in the world, we were caught unprepared. Even though our relaxed response – which abhorred many aspects of lockdowns assumed by other countries – it is critical to know that it affected us big time.

There is no single study that has managed to provide an entire, sector-wise and generic statistical report on the magnitude of effects of the virus, maybe many others are attempting to do so in this “lame duck’’ period, but one of the studies revealed a rather stark reality that much as there was no lockdown, yet sales by grain traders in the country were slashed by 40 per cent thanks to 3 months’ closure of colleges and schools which consumed huge chunk of maize and beans.

Interestingly, in 2018, Tanzania earned 556.614 million US dollars from exporting various agricultural products. Little is known over the generic effects of the pandemic on entire sector, however, individual crop performance can help us get a picture of it all unfolded.

Coffee is one of our major export earning crop and for years it has been one of the leading foreign exchange earner, notwithstanding, this year – especially from March through October 2020 – International Coffee Organisation revealed that exports in the first 10 months of coffee year 2019/20 (Oct/19 to July/20) have decreased by 5.3 per cent 106.59 million bags compared to 112.57 bags in the same period in 2018/19.

If coffee has been hit to this level it is unconscionable that other exports like Cashew nuts, tobacco, tea and cotton have thrived. The fact that we import fertiliser to tune of 592.52 million US dollars annually, so much of it must have not reached our shores due to lockdown measures imposed by producing countries which eventually reduced their production.

And if this happened to that extent, it is crucial that next year’s production will be hampered by little application of industrial fertilisers in crops production leading to reduced productivity in so many areas. The only remedy that stands to lessen the effects is expansion of production area.

Farmers have to lease more farms to mitigate the fertiliser scarcity. In the long run, deliberate measures have to be put in place to promote local production, so that the next pandemic does not get an opportunity to affect us this way anymore. But on the other note, many others are ‘praying’ for this pandemic to continue.

Traders and producers of lemons and ginger, got the most of it this time probably than any time before. A retail price for one lemon fruit has increased by 900 per cent, from the previous 50 Shillings to the prevailing 500 Shillings.

Although local consumption has tanked recently due to “nearly non existent Covid – 19’’, local traders are attributing this surge to an increased demand from the neighbouring countries in the region where the disease is rampant.

‘Foreseen’ Floods In months leading to June 2020, some parts of the country received above normal rainfall. This flood highly crippled harvests of major crops like maize and beans. Thanks to scarcity brought up by little harvest, some regions like Iringa and Tanga observed a 30 per cent surge in prices.

In areas like Kilimanjaro and Kigoma – one of the leading beans producing regions – media reports show that floods didn’t end up in destructing crops but they went up to destroying houses. Well, this was not supposed to be taken a shock because not only Meteorological Agency in Tanzania but also Southern Africa Regional Climate Forum (SARCOF) in their Angola meeting on August 2019 warned about it.

The fact that we didn’t have our farmers well prepared raises a very poignant question of whether we need to do any sort on the assessment on the effectiveness of our early warning system in agriculture. Or else, am afraid, we will be the perennial victims of the climate change that continue to worsen year in year out.

I have been recently retrenched by my employer. ...


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