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Accelerating farm productivity through access, boosting supplies

Accelerating farm productivity through access, boosting supplies

THE challenges to optimal farm productivity are well known: low soil fertility, climate change, limited extension and advisory services, and the inaccessibility of improved seeds and quality fertiliser, among others.

As we work to raise production, priority support should go to the sector to focus on driving up access to extension, advisory services, and agricultural inputs, particularly hybrid seeds and fertilisers. Let’s take a case study of Tanzania’s agriculture, whose share of smallholder farm families is about 7 million, as the mainstay of our economy.

Farming accounts for about 29 per cent of the country’s GDP and almost three-quarters of our country’s productive workforce. But despite government and private sector efforts, productivity, particularly in small family farms, continues to lag.

The most direct consequences of this low agricultural productivity are poverty and malnutrition among rural populations. In this matter, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that 75 per cent of increases in food production must come from intensive production, and considers the use of inorganic fertiliser one of the primary means of realising short and medium-term agricultural productivity goals.

Modern farming encourages microdosing-an ecologically friendly practice that concentrates nutrients at the roots and helps crops capture more native nutrients in the soil.

Used this way, fertilisers can unlock the genetic potential of hybrid seeds — naturally crossed seed varieties that significantly increase crop yields — boosting overall production.

Strengthen input value chains

This year, record fertilizer prices, driven by strong demand from key crop-growing regions globally, have affected its supply and access, significantly denting food production.

Strengthening input value chains must, therefore, be an important component of our support to our smallholder farmers.

Encouragingly, our government has regularly intervened to mitigate access challenges and strengthen our food system. Since May 2020, the Agriculture Ministry has been implementing a pilot program dubbed Mobile Kilimo to revamp the extension service network to equip its officers to support and train farmers.

Secondly, in 2021, the ministry retired the Bulk Procurement System to encourage more people to participate in the fertilizer trade. As a result, the volumes of imported fertilizer have increased significantly, making the agricultural inputs sub-sector quite competitive.

Thirdly, the Ministry of Agriculture has partnered with the Tanzania Ports Authority to establish a system that prioritizes clearing agricultural cargo, especially fertilizer, to eliminate storage and handling costs that customs delays bring. Lastly, the government is continuously and closely engaging stakeholders, including private sector partners, to discuss opportunities for partnership through seed multiplication and extension services.

One of these partners is One Acre Fund, an agricultural development company that supplies smallholders with asset-based financing and agriculture training services to increase productivity. One Acre Fund’s model allows farmers, most of whom cannot afford one-off payments, to settle their credit over the growing season.

The company also delivers these agricultural inputs to farmers within walking distance of their farms, saving them the transport costs they’d otherwise incur.

Encourage closer collaboration

In September this year, One Acre Fund launched a Retail Duka Model, which the Agriculture Minister Prof Adolf Mkenda inaugurated. Under its Duka model, the company will establish 28 agro dealer shops in Mbeya, Njombe, and Songwe regions, where farmers can access inputs all year long.

This is part of the company’s strategy to increase access to quality agricultural inputs. This is only part of the solution, and there is so much important work left to do. As we look to the future, let’s continue to encourage closer collaboration among the private sector, the government, and farmers.

• The writer, Alice Musetti is the Government Relations Senior Analyst at One Acre Fund - Tanzania.

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