Kikwete: Irrigation agriculture is the best solution

Kikwete: Irrigation agriculture is the best solution

Official records indicate that the Rufiji Basin Development Authority (RUBADA) was established in 1975 by an Act of Parliament. Its primary functions are the generation of electricity by hydro works, the undertaking of flood control measures, and the promotion and regulation of activities in the sectors of industry, agriculture, forestry, fisheries, tourism and transport.

The Rufiji River basin covers 20 per cent  the area of Tanzania which has 10 per cent of Tanzania's population and 30 per cent of its surface is water. The basin can be conveniently divided into three parts, the Lower Rufiji Valley, the Kilombero Valley and the Usangu Plains.

In the Lower Rufiji Valley, 114,000 ha of land were identified as suitable for irrigation, of which 57,000 ha were highly suitable for irrigated agriculture (especially rice production). Some 33,000 ha were rated as moderately suitable and the balance of 24,000 ha, mostly in the delta, was marginally suitable due to potential salinity problems.

Therefore, the Rufiji Basin is the largest catchment basin in Tanzania, covering 177,420 sq. km, and has the highest potential for hydropower. Coordinated planning and management at the river basin level is required for the sustainable utilization of wetlands.

There are 92 forest reserves in the Rufiji Basin, covering approximately 10 per cent of the total basin area. These forests are very important for the regulation of water resources. Unsustainable forest exploitation or clearance leads to reduction in quantity of water resources. While there is awareness of the need to protect water sources, enough financial and manpower resources are needed to effect that protection.

With all these facts at hand, one wonders why irrigation projects along the fertile Rufiji basin and other places in the country with reliable supply of year-on flowing rivers remained a nightmare as the population continues to experience unnecessary hiked food prices.

Commenting on the situation, Professor Richard Materu says; "Perhaps we are pre-occupied with too many development plans. It is incomprehensible to see such a fertile basin known to have the potential to feed East and Central Africa remaining idle with millions of cubic metros of water flowing to the ocean.  Tanzanians must wake up," Prof Materu remarked.

The appeal by Prof Materu was in support of the appeal by President Jakaya Kikwete before end of last year as he called for comprehensive participation of the international and local private sector for meaningful engagement in irrigation agriculture as the sector has not been performing well for many years.

The appeal immediately received a positive response from the American Ambassador, Mr Alfonso Lenhart, who on behalf of development partners funding agricultural activities in the country assured the president of continued support to address the needs of farming communities and that of the nation at large. The Acting Country Director of the World Bank, Mercy Tembon, also expressed readiness of the global institution to work closely with the government to reach rural households and help them raise income through efficient agriculture activities.

The president was addressing more than 200 delegates to a two-day forum on Tanzania Agriculture and Food Security Investment Plan in Dar es Salaam towards end of last year. He said application of modern farming techniques should bring farming communities on board for effective utilization of the potentials of the sleeping giant (agriculture sector).

"Since early days of independence, agriculture remained a national priority. Famous slogans like 'Agriculture is politics' dominated to signify people's as well as the government's commitment to increase productivity. But the biggest challenge was dependence on rainfalls with current erratic patterns," Kikwete explained.

From agriculture, he added, we get food and good source of foreign exchange earnings. We had vibrant textile industry. Intervention by the private sector in a sustainable way should focus on irrigation agriculture, distribution of high yield seeds to farmers, application of enough fertilizers and control pests. He gave an example of Vietnam and Indonesia that received technical and financial support from the international Food and Agriculture Organization, (FAO) and appointed Japan to back up the development agricultural project.

"It is possible for Tanzania to mechanize agriculture for eradication of poverty by 2025. But farming communities need skills, increased yield per unit area, added value to the harvest and commensurable returns for the sweat and labour expended. More extension officers have been deployed to villages to provide services," Kikwete elaborated.

Commenting on market reforms, the president cautioned against collusion among traders who opposed directional prices determined by the government as some were inclined to exploit farmers under the pretext of 'unprofitable' prices.
"Transformation of agriculture from the present 4.2 per cent annual growth to 6 per cent will lift up millions of lives. Let the international Private Sector be part of the local private sector to help small scale farmers adopt progressive farming techniques," he said.

Earlier, the Deputy Minister for Finance, Pereira Silima and Zanzibar Minister for Lands, Housing, Water and Energy, Ali Juma Shamhuna, both expressed the government's commitment to supporting agriculture through cooperation with development partners to attain true revolution and food security for the country. They declared national determination to open doors for substantial level of investment to the sector, with implementation currently underway through Kilimo Kwanza initiative.

Agricultural growth corridors have over the last years been launched as high-profile initiatives to increase agricultural production in Africa. These 'corridors' are presented as value-chain mechanisms, and as means to promote an African Green Revolution.
The government recently developed an Agricultural Sector Development Strategy (ASDS) and its operational program (ASDP), whose objectives are to achieve a sustained agricultural growth rate of 5 per cent per annum, through the transformation from subsistence to commercial agriculture.

The transformation is to be private sector led through an improved enabling environment for enhancing the productivity and profitability of agriculture, facilitated through Public and private partnerships with participatory implementation of the District Agricultural Development Plans (DADPs).  Development partners represented at the forum include the World Bank, European Union, DANIDA, IFAD/AfDB, JICA, among others.


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