By Elias Mhegera – Policy analysts have critiqued the trend where small holder farmers are sidelined in decision making and other pertinent issues pertaining to their fate in the agricultural sector.
Analysts say currently agriculture is dominated by ‘investors’ and urban middle class Tanzanians who turn their fellow citizens into casual labourers, particularly women.
These criticisms were part of the presentations during the two days Tanzania Action Policy Hub Workshop on October 6th and 7th that convened experts in research, policy analysts and agriculture.
“We have a good number of people benefiting from the land and agricultural projects, while sidelining small holder farmers who are ignorant of many issues related to agriculture and land,” commented Renatus Mbamilo.
Mr Mbamilo a policy analyst for the Agricultural Council of Tanzania (ACT) was presenting a paper on behalf of the Land Node in the five years policy review programme by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) Tanzania.
He elaborated according to the survey that was conducted in 20 villages of the three districts of Kilombero in Morogoro Region, Wanging’ombe in Njombe Region and Mbozi in Mbeya region only four villages hand Village Land Conflicts Resolution Councils which however are even not well acquainted of their tasks. Land tenure and related cross-cutting issues like conflicts were part of the survey.
Godfrey Bwana an independent consultant says the Policy Program was designed to advocate for policy change which will improve the performance of the smallholders to attain food security and at the same time increase their income. The program was being implemented through Policy Action Nodes (PAN).
A Policy Action Node is a group of existing policy institutions that have the technical expertise and are willing to work together to address policy bottlenecks in the country. Each Policy Node included major key stakeholders who work along that specific policy-action value chain.
These nodes were coordinated by Policy Research for Development (REPOA) which formed a Policy Hub for their efficiency operation. The aim of the workshop was to share experience from the five nodes namely: seeds, market access, soil health, environment and climate change.
Moreover, it was meant to reflect on the success and challenges of the Policy Program. The Tanzania Policy Action Hub presented what the policy program has achieved. Key stakeholders were from policy environment, Government representatives for the Ministry of Land, Development Partners, Academia and Non state actors whereby 14 of them were involved.
“The policy review of AGRA has indicated that agriculture needs to be well coordinated by the Central Government taking its upper hand in the effective monitoring of the support to small holder farmers by the Local Government Authorities (LGAs),” he said.
Analysts observed that small holder farmers were overburdened by costs due to importation schedules. A public policy analyst Dr Francis Mwaijande said that when the fertilizers are imported it means eventually it is farmers that will bear the heavy burden of the related costs.
“We have found that many of such costs would have been reduced if the railways were functioning effectively, for instance, the cost could be less at 62 percent if fertilizers are transported by the train to destinations like Mbeya or Tabora, than the current system of using lorries,” remarked the don.
Analysing other costs even before the fertilizer luggage is carried to its final destination; he elaborated that such costs are charges to the shipping agents, logistic clearing agents, the Tanzania Fertilizer Regulatory Authority (TFRA), the Tanzania Bureau of Standards and the Surface and Marine Transport Regulatory Authority (SUMATRA).
He delineated other expenses as weight and measures, and Tanzania Atomic Energy Commission, apart from the cost of time itself. He adduced that the overall sum of all these are hiked prices of fertilizers. In this programme Dr Mwaijande worked in the capacity of member and technical advisor to the Soil Health Policy Action Node.
These views were shared by Dr Mbette Mshindo Msolla who saw new hope to Tanzanians as the country embarks in production of gases from Minjungu therefore reducing the costs of importing fertilizers by 70 percent national wide.
Dr Susan Nchimbi Msolla from the Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA) said that there is still a need of wide public researches in agriculture in order to identify the gaps. “We have to identify the quality of seeds, soils and then we can apply the proper panaceas to this challenge,” she commented.
Another serious challenge was technical knowhow of how to involve the small holder farmers at the grass root level. Ms Nangware Msoffe from the Open University of Tanzania said that there were translations of all documents related to Climate Change which could make it easier for them to comprehend.
She elaborated that to solve this challenge 94 programmes were aired at Radio Maria, while 2000 brochures in Kiswahili, the national language were circulated.
But the REPOA’s Executive Director Prof Samwel Wangwe challenges that the improvement of agriculture in Tanzania is not a burden of anyone institution, but rather it needs a co-operation of all the sectors, the private, public and the intervention of the International Community as well.
“No donor can sponsor a programme if local initiatives are weaker, thus it is our task to support these projects in any popular way including the ICTs, governance issues, and solving management and implementation hurdles of these projects,” said the don. He further argued that it is the collaboration of all these stakeholders that will bring a combined effort of production.
But in a separate encounter Pastor Abery Bukuku who is a farmer based in Mbozi Mbeya says peasants at the grass grassroots are sidelined and that it is a challenge for any small holder farmer or peasant to secure soft loans from any bank due to scarcity of collaterals and this is apart from another problem of lacking farming implements.
“It is challenging for a peasant who earns TSHS 150,000/= ($ 70.4751) in a mother to buy up to four bags of fertilizers which requires TSHS 80,000/= ($ 37.5867) each making it 320,000/= ($ 150.347), while also they have to fend for other basic family requirements,” he commented.
However he admits that there have been occasions where extension officers had opened offices at the villages but it was rare that they occupied them in many occasions they were passersby’s training villages on sustainable agriculture and quitting for urban areas a few hours later.
This view is shared by Ben Mwakanyamale former employee of the Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA) in Morogoro as supporting staff, who quitted his employment in order to resort time to agriculture. He had a lot of anticipations that his knowledge will help to run scientific agriculture but that was never the case.
“I came to realize that there is a lot of propaganda in the media that the Government aims to improve agriculture but the reality on the ground is quite different to the extent that I have resolved to join the Village Community Banks (VICOBA) which notably have come to my rescue,” he commented.
He criticized that a lot of what is happening in the media about agriculture in Tanzania as mere rhetoric, with an aim of land grabbing. He therefore concurred with some observers in the seminar hall particularly from the ACT who had said that agriculture had been hijacked by those with collaterals a good number of them middle class urban dwellers.
But Dr Daniel Komwihangilo, Acting Director General Tanzania Livestock Research Institute (TALIRI) said that he has headed various researches which had wanted peasants themselves to explain their challenges and in many of such occasions it was villagers who were given the role of chairing such clusters.
“I do not want generalize this stance, but in my case to be fair enough, I have seen many farmers at the grass root level who are given opportunities to run their project including being trained in certain specialized areas,” he commented.
From the Government Communication Unit in the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, Sankana Simkoko says that attempts by the Government to reach the peasants in the grass root level has been successful although he admits lack of collaterals and that land conflicts have been major obstacles in fulfilling some projects.
“We introduced projects like the Participatory Agricultural Development and Empowerment Project (PADEP) whose funds were directed to small holding farmers and livestock keepers. Likewise we had the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), whose funds were again directed to small holder farmers,” he defended.
He elaborated that other similar project which benefited small holder farmers are the National Agricultural Extension Project (NAEP-1 and 2) He also explained that there is a regional arrangement for the same purpose through the Eastern African Agricultural Productivity Program (EAAPP).
Speaking at his office in the presence of his assistant in the communication office, Bashiri Salum the two officials admitted that there are so many good projects for farmers but due to scarcity of funds they just remain in writings than deeds.
He added that in the bid to rescue farmers from missing financial opportunities to them due to lacking title deeds they have been advised to form small production groups.
Professor Emeritus Adolfo Mascarenhas says even if the intention of researchers, policy analysts and even the central government is good towards farmers but sharing of information with them should be improved because in many cases they complain that they are overtaken by events.