In light of this, Correspondent Joseph Kithama interviewed ACT Executive Director JANET BITEGEKO on the achievements of her organisation. Excerpts...
Question: What is ACT’s contribution to an improved business environment?
Answer: ACT has set up a long-term strategic plan to improve the business environment and enhance agricultural enterprises. ACT is committed to continuously engaging the government at all levels through lobbying and advocacy with a view to putting in place policies, laws, directives and procedures that are conducive to agricultural development.
Q: To what extent has ACT engaged district authorities in the formation of Public-Private Dialogues (PPDs)?
A: Lobbying and advocacy on policy issues impacting on agribusinesses have been effective at national level, but with very little impact on regional and district levels. This prompted ACT to establish dialogues with Local Government Authorities (LGAs). Policy dialogues are attended by stakeholders from the public and private sectors.
Despite financial constraints, 10 districts were selected for the establishment of pilot policy dialogues, namely Morogoro, Njombe, Mbozi, Magu, Bunda, Bukoba, Arumeru, Kigoma, Muheza and Tandahimba districts.
Q: How sustainable are DPPs at both national and district levels?
A: As long as almost all private sector organisations (PSOs) are financially incapacitated, it is doubtful whether these dialogues will continue after the sponsorship from BEST-Dialogue ceases. In this regard, ACT is struggling to stand on its feet by exploring many avenues to sustain itself.
Q: What have you achieved in reducing or removing unrealistic crop taxes?
A: There are positive effects of either reducing or removing uncalled for taxes and levies. Their removal has reduced the cost of production and increased the profit margin. It has encouraged people in agribusinesses to step up their endeavours. Unfortunately, the land issue is still unresolved. A few years ago, the government raised annual land rent from Sh400 to Sh1,000 per acre. This increase is counterproductive, especially for large-scale farmers and livestock keepers.
Our organisation embarks on lobbying and advocacy after conducting thorough studies and making convincing conclusions on issues affecting farmers. That's how it has succeeded in convincing the government to reduce or remove unrealistic taxes and duties. For example, crop cess demanded by LGAs was reduced from 5 per cent to 3 per cent for commercial crops, and from 5 per cent to 2 per cent for food crops.
Currently, producers and processers of industrial goods are enjoying tax freedom on specified items, such as import tariff on crude edible oil increased from 10 per cent to 25 per cent. Refined oil import tariff has been increased from 25 per cent to 35 per cent. The increment was decided by the government to protect local seed oil producers from unfair competition.
We also lobbied for VAT exemption on locally produced animal feeds and zero tariff on imported eggs meant for production of chicks in the country.
Q: What does ACT expect from the Ministry of Agriculture's signed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU)?
A: The MoU between the Agricultural Council of Tanzania and the Ministry of Agriculture was meant to recognise ACT as a representative of the agricultural private sector and a key partner in advancing the agricultural sector. In this regard, ACT expects clear understanding, support and collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture in the course of pursuing its agenda on behalf, and for the benefit of stakeholders.
Q: How is your collaboration with higher learning institutes?
A: ACT’s collaboration with Higher Learning Institutions Network (Hi-LINE) to pursue PPDs is a good initiative. ACT contracts experts from Hi-LINE to lead “Stakeholders Issue Potentials” studies on policy issues through the Block Grant and produce position papers aimed to facilitate the PPDs.
The thrust is to encourage dialogues at district level, where planning and execution of District Agricultural Development Plans (DADPs) is made. LGA officials are encouraged to participate in the dialogues. Studies provided, include analysis of a contract farming system in cotton production and effective regulation of the cotton industry in Tanzania,
Addressing challenges in marketing farmers' produce (horticultural crops). Analysis of maize commodity (cost & benefit) in the local and external market and obstacles hindering vanilla production and marketing in Kagera region.
Q: In which projects do you have the support of BEST-Dialogue?
A: ACT has profited from BEST-Dialogue sponsorship to conduct studies on policy issues impacting on the agricultural sector. Key issues addressed include the Value Added Tax-VAT Bill of 2014, conflicting regulatory agencies in Tanzania, understanding the impact of commodity investment plans at district levels and regulatory frameworks governing the flow of agricultural inputs along the supply chain and their influence on farmers’ productivity