Becoming Africa’s bread basket demands easy credit, titled lands

02Sep 2022
The Guardian
Becoming Africa’s bread basket demands easy credit, titled lands

WITH the rising grain supply crisis around the world, and not least in some neighbouring regions in Africa, policy makers are starting to talk about concerted public and private sector actions to take Tanzania to the centre of Africa and global food trade.

That projection is a bit on the high side but Tanzania has for a number of years been a net grain exporter within the East African Community (EAC) zone as well as in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) neighbourhod.

Dr Ashatu Kijaji, the minister responsible for Investments, emphasized this point at the Tanzania agribusiness investment summit 2022 which brings together various agro-sector interests to see if there is consensus for a general thrust of policy. This year organisers were canvassing for ‘bold actions for resilient food systems’ in the country, a theme amply sheltered by a budgetary revolution in terms of allocations to the agricultural sector as a whole. Still the vision is demanding, even audacious.

The local summit was convened to prepare for the bigger Africa Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) 2022 scheduled for Kigali next week, with the minister seeking updated ideas for the framework for a national plan ahead of the AGRF summit, citing the fact that President Samia Suluhu Hassan will be a keynote speaker there. At an earlier EAC summit, the president stressed the need to shift to irrigation-based farming; drought arising from climate change makes tradition unworkable.

Laying emphasis on realizing the vision to be a global food supplier and a market leader in agro-industrialization, that it can be achieved by synergies between the public and private sectors could easily understate the task ahead. Nor is it made easier when it lays stress on working together to benefit smallholder farmers, as in actual fact the sector needs policy shifts or intensification of current shifts where the farmers adapt, not just benefiting from such moves. The issue is to enhance farm sector productivity and credit flows; smallholders don’t have ready answers.

There is a chasm between smallholders merely as farmers on small patches of land, and smallholders in the sense of communal farmers on clan land, inherited across generations. The small farm of a woman purchasing land can be lent money, but the small farm of a man inheriting land and bequeathing it to his children is harder to lend money. Such plots can be sold within the clan, not outsiders by the banks.

Bringing most of the country’s farmland to irrigation can’t just be done by having the government build wells and ponds all over for non-creditworthy farmers to obtain water for crops. That way it will take a decade to bring 90 per cent of farmland to irrigation, whereas if customary title deeds are removed, and all land is titled and no longer subject to tribal customary law, banks could provide loans for collective dam building and individual portion of cash to pay, or definitely even to individuals for own wells. Being able to assume collateral without fallout is vital.

Title deeds are an exam that policy makers need to comprehend, close to 20 years since Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto lectured on the matter at the invitation of third phase president, the late Benjamin Mkapa. Title deeds enable loans and exchanging land if one doesn’t pay. Tradition disallows this.

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