With the fate of the proverbial ‘backbone of the national economy’ at stake, it is small wonder for legislators to demand a substantial boost in financing for the sector’s development.
It will be recalled that scores of Tanzanian and foreign agricultural experts, policymakers and donors met in Dar es Salaam a decade or so ago.
They were out to exchange views, ideas and experience relating to what best could be done to step up Tanzania’s food and cash crop production capacity in the face of ever-changing climate, shrinking arable land, environmental concerns and the need to ensure that the country’s farmers benefit.
Agriculture sector and other development stakeholders deliberated on – and identified – priority areas for a five-year research drive for implementation in the country.
The initiative’s ultimate goal was to devise, develop and promote improved integrated farming systems able to sustainably bolster production and profitability while preserving the natural resource base.
The idea was for the research project to have its focus and thrust on management practices better integrating cereals, legumes, vegetables, livestock, and trees in mixed-farming systems and allowing for more judicious and efficient use of resources, enhanced food production and the earning of higher farm incomes.
It was also designed – and expected – to introduce innovations to more effectively link farmers to reliable markets and hopefully ensuring them juicier revenue opportunities.
Experts said that the results of the research would also be applied in other East and Southern African countries with agro-ecological conditions similar to those obtaining in Tanzania. Mozambique, Malawi and Zambia were cited as ready examples.
The research was described as one of three regional programmes in Africa funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) under the US government’s Feed the Future initiative.
The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), which was to lead the initiative, was on record as expecting the Dar es Salaam meeting to ensure that the project was aligned to – as well as complemented and strengthened by – similar efforts by the Tanzanian government and other agricultural development partners and agencies in the country.
IITA reiterated the obvious, saying agriculture was pivotal in efforts leading to success in getting rid of poverty. However, it saw finding ways to support farmers with new knowledge and appropriate technologies as a major challenge.
Expert further saw the intervention as highly likely to help farmers realise a decent rise in their production and, by logical extension, an improvement in their lives “in ways that do not harm natural resources such as soil and water on which farmers depend on”.
IITA later explained that it was largely owing to the demands of the situation that experts concluded that it was of fundamental importance to bring on board a focused project implemented and overseen using a wide spectrum of mutually enriching expertise.
Partners in this research initiative were cited as including the Africa Rice Centre, the International Livestock Research Institute, International Food Policy Research Institute, International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre and the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture.
The others are the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), the World Vegetable Center, US-based universities, and national research and development institutions in Tanzania.
With so many highly regarded experts placing so much emphasis on the need to support the improvement of agriculture across the world, developing countries including Tanzania must truly appreciate the importance of directing more funds and other resources into the development of the sector.
As noted, though, Tanzania has for decades looked top agriculture as the engine driving its economy – be it crop cultivation, fishing, livestock development, etc. – with industrialisation adding lustre and value to the undertakings.
With this, it is always understandable when the people’s representatives in the form of lawmakers demand that the government ensure agriculture utmost attention and care.
It is as understandable when the government turns its ears to the ground and does what most it can to heed the MPs’ demands.