Agriculture, 95 percent of which is rain-fed, supports the livelihoods of two thirds of Tanzanians and employs 80 percent of the rural workforce.
Majority of Tanzania’s population lives in rural areas where communities rely heavily on natural resources. For instance, over 90 percent of Tanzanians rely on fuel wood from trees and other vegetation for their domestic energy requirements. Agriculture is the main economic activity, accounting for 45 percent of GDP and 55 per cent of foreign exchange earnings.
The sector employs more than 80 percent of the population. In view of its importance to the country’s economy; the trend in Tanzania’s agricultural sector has been of concern. During the period 2000-2008 agriculture realized a modest average growth rate of 4.4 percent, far below the National Strategy for Growth and Reduction of Poverty (NSGRP I) target of 10 percent by 2010.
This trend in the growth of the agricultural sector is significant because it implies deepening poverty for the majority of the rural population.
Increasing socio-economic growth, reducing food insecurity, and accelerating poverty reduction in Tanzania, particularly in rural areas, necessitates an increase in agricultural productivity.
Unfortunately, agricultural productivity in Tanzania is highly susceptible to extreme weather variations and poor capitalization. Climate variability, a precursor of climate change, is already affecting Tanzania. Climatic patterns are becoming both less predictable and more severe.
The National Vulnerability and Adaptation Assessment of Tanzania estimates that northern and south eastern sectors of the country would experience an increase in rainfall ranging from between 5 percent and 45 percent. The central, western, south western, southern and eastern parts of the country might experience a decrease in rainfall of 10 percent to 15 percent.
Another climate change related challenge to agriculture is the unpredictability in the onset of the rainy season as well as the shortening of the rainy season. Failure to accurately predict the onset of a rainy season has meant that some farmers are caught unprepared. Some plant too early while others plant too late and end up losing their investment in agriculture. The nation’s farmers – the vast majority of which are resource-poor smallholders – must find ways to adapt to these changing circumstances.
The government of Tanzania understands the importance of agriculture as a driver of general economic growth and that pinning economic development plans on improved agricultural productivity is a risky strategy in the face of impending climate change. As a response, it has developed a fairly comprehensive plan, legislative and policy frameworks for environment and natural resources management.
For example, in 2007, the government did develop a National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA), which provides some useful information and identifies several ways farmers can reduce the impacts of climate change. However, NAPA is generally considered an inadequate framework for the kind of detailed planning and delivery of options needed for limiting the climate change impacts.
A recent update of the NSGRP includes the goal of ensuring food and nutrition security, environmental sustainability, climate change adaptation and mitigation, but to achieve these goals requires a more specific policy on climate change.
The government needs to develop and implement a policy that promotes “climate-smart” agriculture across Tanzania, and especially in the Southern Highlands where much of the country’s food is produced.
This policy should seek to raise agricultural productivity in environmentally and socially sustainable ways. It should bolster the ability of smallholders to cope with the negative effects of climate change and should aim at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing carbon storage on farmland. To develop and implement an appropriate and effective climate change policy for the country will be no easy task, but it is both urgent and essential.
Success will rest on building the knowledge and capacity of all stakeholders involved in the process. It is vital to encourage informed discussion making and debate across the spectrum of interested parties – from the general citizenry, farmers’ organisations and other local interest groups, like civil society entities, policymakers at all levels of government.
A welcome and positive step in this direction is a three-year, Alliance for a Green Revolution (AGRA) funded project that will be implemented by the Tanzania Environment Policy Action Node and coordinated by the Open University of Tanzania Department of Environmental Studies.
The project will provide up-to-date information on climate change, and will strive to improve further the understanding of the impact of climate change on the smallholder agriculture and the coping and adaptation strategies of the farmers in the breadbasket region.
This information will be used to promote the development of an evidence-based climate change policy, and to encourage more political attention and commitment of resources – both public and private – to climate change issues in Tanzania.
An important part of the initiative entails capacity building for policymakers and other stakeholders on what adaptation to climate change implies, and the necessary elements of an effective adaptation and mitigation policy.
Platforms for sharing information will be established, and workshops will be held to improve the development and implementation of an effective climate change policy.
The project will initially focus on five districts in the Southern Highlands which constitute part of Tanzania’s breadbasket area. The lessons learned there will help scale up adaptation and mitigation practises across the country and over the longer term.
Still, this is only an initial step towards a comprehensive, evidence-based climate change policy.
The path that must be followed extends well into the future, and it takes time to develop a national consensus on issues like climate change. But a consensus must be reached if Tanzania is to minimise the adverse impacts of climate change.
• The author is the Land and Environment Policy Officer, Alliance for A Green Revolution in Africa