RELATIONSHIPS AND FOOD – BY SHANE MULLIGAN

 

Coming to Tanzania, I thought I would be subject to exclusively hot weather. Little did I know that two of my first weeks here would be in near-freezing temperatures. Those first weeks included travel to the southern highlands where an occasional frost is not surprising. In Dar es Salaam I was welcomed by humid, cool breezes and the ocean, while the highlands offered an array of deciduous vegetation. The diverse ecological zones gave me insight to the numerous agricultural opportunities in Tanzania.

A farmer co-op potato storage facility.

A farmer co-op potato storage facility.

Coming to Tanzania, I have introduced myself to the impressive continent of Africa and intimate knowledge of agriculture by collaborating with the Southern Agriculture Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT). The SAGCOT itself is a public-private partnership initiated by the government of Tanzania as part of the Kilimo Kwanza (Agriculture First) initiative; my work is with the executive body, SAGCOT Centre Limited (SCL). SCL acts as a neutral broker, facilitating connections between the central and local government offices, private firms, and smallholder farmers. My primary roles include:

  • Analyzing the impact of a potato project implemented by SCL and potato value chain
  • Writing and designing publications which accurately convey the work of SCL
  • Creating a roadmap for documentation of accomplishments and contributions of the staff

In analyzing the potato system, I met with government officials in agricultural offices, private companies, farmers, and potato specialists. One of the roles of SCL is to understand the differences between these groups and help them communicate their issues more effectively to each other and establish pathways to meeting their needs. The agriculture sector desperately needs higher quality inputs – indigenous seed potatoes yield a fraction of what they yielded a generation ago and low quality fertilizer and chemicals consume the limited resources of subsistence farmers. Government subsidies are allocated only for maize, leading farmers to struggle for a balance between growing maize for sustenance and potatoes for income. Potato fields are a two-hour drive to the nearest market and a three-day drive to the market in Dar es Salaam; few farmers have storage facilities and are forced to sell their potatoes whenever a trader comes to collect.

An example of potato storage.

An example of potato storage.

I am documenting challenges and providing suggestions as to how SCL can further engage partner organizations to solve problems. The central problems are financing and quality inputs. Most farmers operate independently which limits their access to finance since they have little collateral. SCL has helped farmers establish cooperatives which can borrow money collectively, share overhead costs of planting and harvesting, and learn farming techniques from one another. Financial institutions are needed to provide crop insurance, loans for capital improvements including storage spaces, and teach farmers cost-benefit analysis for their farms. High quality inputs include minimizing the risk of diseases, pests, and soil quality depletion through fertilizer and chemicals as well as to increase the number of potato varieties.

Samples at the Uri-Uyole Agriculture Research Lab.

Private public partnerships like the SAGCOT can streamline issues that many people have for an efficient solution. These partnerships act as catalysts to jump-start markets and later self-destruct when markets realize profits and become self-sustaining. However, there is a delicate balance between encouraging private firms to engage in an underdeveloped market and placing too many temporary incentives in order to encourage investment. Thus far, SCL has been most successful in introducing policy changes in favor of of private firms and farmers and creating an environment for private companies to work alongside government priorities. In working with SCL, I have learned a great deal about agriculture. The gap between subsistence farming and income-generating farming remains, despite the efforts of the government and private companies. Yet, there has been measurable progress. In a mere four years of increasing and expanding partnerships, the SAGCOT has given farmers hope for a future in which they have choices – from the types of crops they grow to higher education opportunities for their children – which were unthinkable a decade ago.

Maria and I at the potato farm.

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