Over 200 rural-based villagers from Arusha, Manyara, Kilimanjaro and Tanga regions recently gathered in the safari capital of Arusha to discuss different issues related to the high cost of living and poverty in Tanzania.
The one-day forum, which was organized by an Arusha-based Civil Society Organization (CSO) Hakikazi Catalyst, was meant to empower people from the grassroots level with better understanding of economic issues and how they can be able to respond to the escalating prices of important goods and services in their respective areas. Our Staff Writer, Lusekelo Philemon attended the forum and files this report….
CHRISTINA Tippe, a mother of six, lives in Migombani village, Mto-wa-mbu area in Arusha’s Monduli district.
Recounting on how the escalating prices of goods and services are affecting her family, Christina says life is becoming miserable to her and her family of eight. She can no longer meet her family’s daily needs as she used to the same period last year.
“Life is becoming very tough for people like me, who have no sustainable income. I am forced to change the type of food we have been eating for years, as one way of mitigating the impact of the rising inflation,” says Christina.
“In those good days, ‘ugali’ used to be our main food for lunch and rice for dinner, but now we have resorted to eating ‘ugali’ both day and night on a daily basis because its price is a bit cheaper than that of rice,” Christina explains.
But, the price of maize flour in some market outlets is soaring as of now. In some areas, a kilo sells at 1,200/-, contrary to the former price of between 700/- and 800/- per kg.
Rice now is selling at 2,500/- per kg and with the size of Christina’s family, she needs to buy two kilos of rice which is about 5,000/-, And that’s just a single commodity that she and her family needs for consumption. She describes the high prices as a threat “to many of us.” Christina is one of the 200 villagers and local government leaders who attended a one-day forum on how to curb the escalating prices of goods and services in Tanzania.
She says the current inflation is badly biting people, and is more serious on rural-based villagers whose life depends on hand-hoe farming, amid unpredictable rains.
Agnes Stephen from Terrat ward shares a similar experience with Christina saying scores of people in the northern part of Tanzania and perhaps across the country are worried over the escalating high cost of living.
She asks the government to take swift measures to stop the ongoing price increase on basic goods, including foodstuffs.
“The price of everything has been going up on a daily basis. I am wondering as to why the government is keeping quiet without taking remarkable measures to relieve its people who are currently unable to meet their daily needs,” she says, adding: “We are not sure of what we shall eat tomorrow. This situation has made us to eat just one meal a day….in short we’re just surviving.”
“When I take 10,000/- to the market I come back with just a few things in my basket unlike it used to be three years ago, where the same amount would buy me a variety of things and I could even remain with a balance,” says Agnes.
She observes that the situation has been also contributing to poor performance of children in schools, as they leave home on empty stomachs.
“I have resorted to porridge for breakfast. Sugar is now a luxury rather than being a basic need,” Amina Nasoro from Mto-wa-mbu area says.
A mother of five, Amina says when she goes to a shop, she finds a change in price of important goods.
According to her, the situation is becoming worse to people living with HIV/Aids particularly those using anti-retroviral drugs.
“If nothing is going to be done, most people who are currently on ARVs, will die because of poor diet. I have seen several people who are forced to stop using the drugs because they have no food,” says Amina, who is also a HIV home-based care worker in the area.
She says sometimes the government boasts of dishing out food relief to people who are facing food shortage, but in most cases, the victims end up getting only 10kgs of maize.
“How can these ten kilos of maize help people who are in need of food?” she wonders.
Thabitha Emmanuel from Olarashi village in Monduli calls upon the government to come up with a special bank, that will be buying all cereals during the harvesting season and sell it at a reasonable price, when the price goes up in the market outlets.
She says, Tanzania is not required to import food because it has a number of areas which are potential for food production, citing Rukwa, Mbeya, Ruvuma and Morogoro regions.
“What is needed is to introduce a bank that will be buying all food produced at a reasonable price and store them until when the demand is high,” she says.
Naiman Kitomari from Karangai village in Arumeru calls upon the government to ensure it improves all roads linking areas which are potential for producing food stuffs in the country.
He further pointed out that if the government was very serious in its ‘Kilimo Kwanza’ initiative, inflation would have gone down by now.
“In this case, more people would have been engaged in farming and produced more food and part of it exported for foreign exchange. In this case, we would have a lot of dollars which would in turn strengthen our shilling.”
Kitomari says it is high time the government allocated more financial resources in agriculture, the sector which employs more than 35million Tanzanians.
Ezekiel Muhubiri from Kilimanjaro says: “Kilimo Kwanza is just a political issue rather than a reality, taking into account that budget allocation to the sector is very minimal. So, the initiative is not meant to lift Tanzanians out of poverty.”
He says the current inflation is a proof that Kilimo Kwanza has failed because of the politics in it.
Engutoto Ward Executive Officer, Kuruthum Hassan implores the need for the government to come up with a special tool that will be controlling prices of important commodities as it is in fuel and water.
“To me this will be a good idea, though I am not sure if the government will heed it,” she says.
Edward Kivuyo from Mbuyuni village says setting up prices of major commodities, will be a good step in scaling-down the escalating inflation.
He says the government should come up with a better mechanism that will make the “free market” system operational in Tanzania.
“The current free market is not friendly to many Tanzanians, who live on less than a dollar per day. The government should leave everything in the hands of businessmen, who always think of hefty profit,” Kivuyo suggests.
Dr. Honest Ngowi, a lecturer at the Mzumbe University’s Business School is also worried over the ongoing trend saying inflation adds a huge burden to the majority Tanzanians, when it comes to buying goods and services.
He suggests the need for the government to scale-up salaries for employees as one of the short-term measures to address the situation,
“Another solution is for the government to set prices of important goods and services, such as food, transport and medicines,” says Dr. Ngowi.
According to him, giving subsidies in important goods and services as it is in agriculture will also help to scale-down escalating prices in the market.
For long-time measures, the economic expert implored the need to come up with sustainable strategies to curb inflation, which include solving power woes, improving road and market infrastructures.
“This will help to improve transport of agricultural inputs to areas which are potential for farming and transportation of harvested food crops from production areas to the markets,” he says, adding that food has a big share in contributing to inflation.
“And this is due to the budget weight it poses at family level,” he says.
“Improving irrigation farming will be an ideal solution towards improving food production rather than relying on rain-fed agriculture,” the don says.
On strengthening the Tanzanian shilling, the expert says, there is a need to come up with practical measures to address the vice by reducing unnecessary spending and exporting more than importing.
“I am worried by the government measures to control inflation. Price increases in Tanzania are the result of economic structural problems partly due to energy instability which causes under production, and not the amount of money in circulation as the government says,” says Dr. Ngowi.
Tanzania's year-on-year inflation rate slowed for the third straight month, to 19 percent in March from 19.4 percent a month earlier due to a fall in food and fuel costs.
Food and alcoholic beverages account for almost half the total weighting in the consumer price index in Tanzania.
"Falling food and energy costs are the main reasons for the decline of the inflation rate in the year to March 2012," says Ephraim Kwesigabo, the director of population census and social statistics at the National Bureau of Statistics.
Electricity and gas costs stood at 17.4 percent year-on-year in March 2012 versus 19.5 percent a month earlier.