BY SEBASTIAN MRINDOKO, 28 AUGUST 2012
WITH increased cases of extreme weather conditions due to climate change, commercial farming has been identified as an important activity that can boost the country’s economic growth.
In fact, commercial farming has remained a dream, despite years of beautiful agricultural slogans since independence. The government’s move to invite large scale agricultural investors is seen as an opportunity that will best put into implementation the idea of commercial farming with the ultimate goal of liberalising the sector to enhance its contribution to ending abject poverty.
The Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania’s (SAGCOT) is a programme designed to involve investors from the private sector with the goal of increasing food supply, generating households incomes, promote better access and utilisation of food to achieve meaningful nutritional gains.
Despite the positive intention of the move, some agricultural experts have expressed worries whether commercial farming would really benefit the whole nation or few investors. They also see “climate change” and it impacts on agriculture as an opportunity to be harnessed.
“Agricultural investors are like any other in the world wanting to make super profit out of the investment made with little or no consideration to small holder farmers, 80 per cent of whom lay their hopes for earning daily bread on farm activities,” said Dr Damian Gabagambi, an agricultural economist from the Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA).
He said the idea to invite large scale investors in commercial farming was good and if implemented rightly it would definitely transform farming activities to contribute significantly to country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) which is still below 30 per cent despite employing at least 80 per cent of the population.
Speaking at the second National Reference Group (NRG) meeting on Understanding Linkages and Stakeholders Experience, Dr Gabagambi said the government should scrutinise cautiously the implementations of commercial farming so that it never sideline small holder farmers.
The NRG meeting saw an urgency to develop awareness on how climate change, food security, and trade interact and build the capacity of all relevant stakeholders to develop and implement holistic responses. Dr Gabagambi cited the growing unhealthy relation among the Mtibwa sugarcane producers where large producers supply first their products before purchasing those of the small holders.
Apart from the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the parties, the trend suggests that in the long time, large scale investors will be able to meet the factory’s demands without depending on small holder sugarcane producers.
He similarly challenged state and non state actors to take time introducing the Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) seeds because it is a new culture to the Tanzanian farmers otherwise it would ruin agricultural activities. Dr Gabagambi also said it was high time for the public and private stakeholders to take climate change as an opportunity to transform people’s lives by improving commercial farming through the use of irrigation schemes instead of over dependency on rainfall.
Clarifying various issues raised by participants, Dr Gratian Bamwenda said there was need for the government to closely observe large scale investors that they support small holder farmers in terms of technology and markets. He called for technology improvement on weather forecast to ensure it provides clear and accurate information to farmers who have been incurring losses for keeping on trying again and again to plant seeds without knowing exactly the beginning of the rain season.
In the findings from the Country Study Findings on Linkages found that farmers in the regions like Tabora and Kigoma were keeping on trying to plant seeds as the way of presuming the start of the rain season due to lacking accurate weather information, a situation the plunges them to heavy losses.
The national network, which represented all relevant stakeholders from the government, the business, farming communities, CSOs, media and think tanks, is committed to making East African policy-making processes more inclusive in addressing climate-related hunger through trade.
With the increase in the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events due to climate change, agricultural and trade patterns in the EAC are drastically changing. This is causing additional large-scale hunger in the region. Harnessing the potential of trade by putting in place appropriate policies to ensure affordable food for millions of people is the need of the hour.