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Badilisha Lugha KISWAHILI

Small producers deserve greater national support

19th January 2012
Editorial cartoon

In the foreword to the Summary of the 2011 Human Development Report, United Nations Development Programme Administrator warns that the remarkable progress registered in human development over recent decades cannot continue without bold global steps to reduce both environmental risks and inequality.

She says millions of disadvantaged people the world over are doubly deprived in that they are more susceptible to the wider effects of environmental degradation and must also deal with threats to their immediate environment from indoor air pollution, dirty water and unimproved sanitation.

The UNDP chief was commenting on the global picture, and her remarks will not necessarily reflect the situation on the ground in specific countries or communities. Thus, she may have sounded overly optimistic if specific cases in point in some countries were to be analysed more seriously than actually happened – and vice versa for others.

In Tanzania, for instances, there are areas where the threats of desertification and depletion of marine and other natural resources have manifested themselves for decades on end but little has been done to arrest the problems by containing dangerous practices such as overgrazing, overfishing and opposition to the use of environment-friendly farming, animal husbandry and fishing.

Evidence of this abounds across the country. For example, once upon a time the entire Lake Victoria zone once boasted massive tracts of arable land where cash and food crops ranging from cotton and maize to coffee, tubers, bananas, groundnuts, sorghum, millet and sesame used to – or could – thrive.

However, recent decades have witnessed a completely different picture: most land has been so over-farmed and otherwise misused that it has generated into barren soil unfit for crop use. Lake Victoria is meanwhile grappling with alarmingly high levels of environmental pollution as well as problems such as dynamite fishing, receding water levels resulting partly from poor upland farming methods.

Official efforts to popularise the use of more appropriate farm and fishing tools have not come to much use, the major reasons including public reluctance to accept change and the fact of the expertise and tools or technology that would have helping in making that change possible being either not accessible or not affordable.

The number of extension staff may have grown appreciably over the years, but there is still a massive shortage, while few farmers, pastoralists and people engaged in small-time fishing can afford the improved gear they would need to improve or expand their businesses.

True, much has been made to help these businesses grow and contribute more to the economy at the household and other levels. However, substantial parts of the people’s produce – be it fish catches, cash and food crops including highly perishable ones such as fruits – rotting away at source just because there is no ready market for them.

The national agricultural initiative popularly known as Kilimo Kwanza could improve things substantially but, as recently witnessed, the prices of essential implements and inputs could easily stand as a serious impediment.

Improving the lot of the citizenry is a very tall order, and agencies like UNDP will have to continue supporting national development initiatives if meaningful progress is to be realised.

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