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 Tanzania's ruling elite neglect agriculture and poor farmers

 Ng’wanza Kamata

Considering Tanzania's position in relation to food crises around the world, Ng’wanza Kamata laments the inability of Jakaya Kikwete's government to develop the 'agricultural revolution' it once promised. Highlighting that food production difficulties have over the years invariably been attributed to drought and peasant farmers' supposed laziness and poor agricultural methods, Kamata argues that the government should now begin to look in the mirror and acknowledge its own shortcomings. With the budget for agriculture consistently low despite the sector's support for around 80 per cent of Tanzania's total population, the author contends that the country's producers essentially remain subject to the same exploitative relations first imposed during the colonial period. In the face of contemporary political elites' willingness to embrace biofuel production methods, Kamata stresses that the touted agricultural revolution should prioritize the needs and role of the country's poor agricultural majority and not simply bend to the will of foreign corporations.

(May 24, 2009) Last year the world's attention was focused on food and fuel, the prices of which were both soaring with no sign of any reprieve. Fuel prices have gone down since, coinciding with the global financial meltdown, but food prices have not. It was these prices together with food shortages in some countries around the world which received critical attention. There the people were hit hard. They could not take it anymore and took to the streets. Food-triggered demonstrations and riots occurred in countries such as Mexico, Indonesia, Yemen, the Philippines, Cambodia, Morocco, Senegal, Uzbekistan, Guinea, Mauritania, Egypt, Cameroon, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Peru, Bolivia and Haiti. In Haiti demonstrators carried empty plates to demonstrate the depth of their plight.[1] Governments around the world responded to the crisis in different ways. In Haiti the prime minister resigned due to popular pressure. In Egypt the government resorted to subsidising food prices. This was an attempt to avert the violence and crime associated with food shortages. Countries such as Indonesia imposed a general ban on food exports, a solution which was seen as compounding global food problems.

While this was happening in much of the world, the crisis appeared remote in Tanzania. Around that time, the Tanzanian government gave its citizens assurances that the food situation was stable. To avert any fear of a food shortage, the minister responsible for food security and cooperatives maintained that 'the country’s food situation was stable and national reserves had enough food to feed the people in case of unexpected shortages'.[2] There was no serious talk on food prices despite the fact that they were obviously on the rise. Some reports suggest that between 2008 and 2009 the price of food in the country has gone up by 25 per cent.[3] This rise was also reflected in the increase in the rate of inflation.[4] A few months later a looming food shortage was reported.[5] The government and politicians started hammering people with scare statistics related to food shortages. Calls were made for people to grow drought-resistant crops because the government would not be able to feed everyone.[6]

Although an agricultural revolution has been promised by the Kikwete government, it has not materialized. The government does not appear to be committed to addressing the questions of food production and peasant farmers. The present approach is fundamentally no different from that of previous governments. Food production has never been given the attention it deserves; it has always been treated on an ad hoc basis. 'Divine intervention' has been left, over the years, to determine both the quantity and quality of agricultural and food production. The ‘hand hoe’ has been left to 'fend' for itself while the peasant bears the brunt of food shortages. And every time there is a food shortage, it is attributed to drought, laziness or bad farming methods of the peasant farmer. The peasant farmer has also been blamed for destroying the environment and causing low agricultural yields. Typically, the victim is turned into a villain. Solutions dished out from the top range from calls for hard work and environmental protection to the planting of drought-resistant crops. At no time has blame been apportioned to the government's shortcomings in its policies and how these policies have neglected the rural areas and the peasant farmer.

In the 1970s, for example, when hunger loomed over many parts of the country, President Julius Nyerere made a tour of the lake zone regions, in which he made three appeals to the peasants: plant more trees, increase cotton production and grow more drought-resistant crops such as millet. He also warned them against 'repeating previous mistakes of planting maize in areas where conditions were not suitable because of little rain.'[7] A similar call is made 34 years later by the minister for agriculture. From these experiences one thing is clear: the political elite (the bureaucratic bourgeoisie) cannot deal with food shortages. They would not assist the peasant farmer because that would put a dent on their share of conspicuous consumption.

This is illustrated by the neglect of the agricultural sector over the years. It is also reflected in budgetary allocations. In the 1970s and 1980s, for example, agriculture received 16 per cent of the budget while the industrial sector received 26 per cent. Then it could be argued that there was more emphasis on industrialization than on agriculture. The situation has worsened even further during the neoliberal era. Between 2000–01 and 2007–08 the allocation for agriculture of the total budget fluctuated between 2.8 per cent and 6.2 per cent. Generally, 'the budget allocation to the agricultural sector is not commensurate to the sector’s contribution to the GDP, it is smaller and declining.'[8] It is also important to note that this neglected sector directly supports about 80 per cent of the population.

To understand this situation it is necessary to trace the root of the problem, which is structural and has its roots in imperial expansion, to the peripheries. In the imperial division of labor. Tanganyika was a peasant colony, its major function being to produce colonial crops for export to Europe. The crops and their production were introduced and sustained through the use of naked force and extra-economic coercion. Thus the peasant farmers had to be coerced to reproduce themselves and produce surplus for expropriation at no cost to the expropriator, in this case the colonial state. This has not changed. Instead it has been internalized and reproduced by the post-colonial elites.

In more recent times this internalization of the imperial equation in the agricultural sector has been seen in the way political elites have embraced biofuel projects. The world over, with the exception of those who want to profit from these projects, doubts have been expressed on the impact of biofuel projects on agriculture and food security.[9] The debate within Tanzania echoes such concerns. In a palaver held in October 2008 at the University of Dar es Salaam there was a general consensus that biofuels are not good for Tanzania and African countries.[10] It has been cautioned that biofuel crops will take arable land used for food production, that food prices will rise to levels unaffordable by the poor majority, that many people will lack adequate nutritional food owing to biofuel farming's emphasis on monoculturism, and that biofuel projects will unleash a new wave of land-grabbing in the rural areas. This will cause great uncertainty among peasant farmers and will have negative effects on food production. It was resolved that the country should concentrate more on food production and support for peasant farmers because it is this group of producers which has sustained the country for years. It was also resolved that biofuel projects are not intended to help us, but instead they are meant to resolve the problems of other countries, especially in Europe and the United States.[9] It was concluded that the country should focus on food production, and address the question of the nutritional value of food for a healthy population.

The government’s response to the debate on biofuel has been to attempt to allay fears that biofuel will cause serious problems to the country in relation to food prices. It has also claimed that Tanzania has plenty of arable land that cannot be destroyed by farming crops meant for the production of biofuels. As such it has continued to attract foreign investment in the agricultural sector, touting the idea that the country will benefit. The supposed benefits include increased income for smallholding farmers and thus the reduction of income poverty, the introduction of agro-processing industries, the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and those from other pollutants, and access to modern technology.[12]

The question is, what is happening elsewhere in the world that does not suffice to dissuade political elites from their blind embrace of biofuel projects? Are they waiting for riots and demonstrations of people carrying empty plates to know what is likely to happen? Isn’t there historical evidence to draw lessons from so that mistakes of the past are not carried to the future? The political elites seem to ignore all this. They talk about an agricultural revolution to be brought about by large-scale farmers. They have no recollection that in favor of that very large-scale farming the state in the 1970s alienated huge tracts of land from the Barbaig of Hanang district. This was done by force because the people vigorously resisted the evictions. Today the Hanang wheat farms are no more. In the 1940s and 1950s the British government introduced a large-scale groundnut scheme in Nachingwea and Kongwa. These were to be the trendsetters for intensive groundnut production in the Tanganyika colony. The aim was to produce oil for lubricating machines in Europe. These schemes also failed. Of these gigantic projects none focused on the food needs of the majority. Instead they caused problems for the rural people. These problems is now being replicated. As its predecessor did, the present government is assisting foreign companies to grab the land of the poor in the rural areas, only this time it is for biofuel. Already in Tanzania foreign companies have started grabbing land. The frontrunners are the two companies of SEKAB and Sun Biofuel.

These projects, like the previous ones, will not be beneficial to Tanzania. If they succeed at all they will solve the problems of other countries and not those of the poor majority of Tanzanians. But these too are likely to collapse, at a cost which will accrue to the same groups who have always borne the burden of the elite. That is the logic of the imperial equation. Until we resolve it the majority will continue to go hungry or when they do eat they only fill their stomachs with the likes of improved Haitian pica. History is full of lessons and one important lesson is that progress is impossible if you do not begin by feeding your people first. If Nkrumah’s clarion call for independence was ‘seek ye the political kingdom’, our call now should be 'feed the people first and the rest will follow'. But an even bigger question must be resolved first: our production systems have to be overhauled so that they stop responding to the dictates of imperialism.

Ng’wanza Kamata is with the Department of Political Science at the University of Dar es Salaam. This article first appeared in the maiden issue of CHEMCHEMI, Bulletin of the Mwalimu Nyerere Professorial Chair in Pan African Studies of the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and is reproduced here with the kind permission of the editorial board of CHEMCHEMI. This article also appeared in Pambazuka News and may be viewed at http://www.pambazuka.org/en/category/features/56412

[1] Stephen Lendman. 'Global Food Crises Plague Haiti and the World' in Global Research (April 21, 2008) http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=8712 (Downloaded on 15th February 2009).
[2] The Guardian, Tanzania., October 1, 2008.
[3] See Tanzania Daima. February 17, 2009.
[4] This is reflected in the official report on inflation rates which has been steadily increasing. It was 5.9% in June 2007, 9.3% in June 2008 and 12.3% in November 2008 (See Jakaya Kikwete’s New Year’s Eve Speech, 31st December 2008).
[5] Tanzania Daima, op.cit. reported that eleven regions were facing food shortage. The regions were Arusha, Kilimanjaro, Tanga, Coast, Morogoro, Mwanza, Mara, Lindi, Mtwara, Manyara, and Shinyanga.
[6] In his recent tour of Mara region the Minister for Food Security made such remarks after learning that Mara and another 10 regions in the country are facing food deficits because of a drought spell.
[7] See Ng’wanza Kamata. 'Environmental Change and the Politics of Control and Marginalisation in Tanzania: The Case of Sukumaland'. Unpublished Ph. D. Thesis, University of Dar es Salaam. 2005.
[8] See T. S. Nyoni. 'Implications of the 2007/8 Budget in the Development of the Agriculture Sector'. A Think Piece for The Policy Dialogue seminar on 'Post Budget (2007/08) Discussion Forum'; Economic and Social Research Foundation (ESRF). 19th June 2007. ESRF Conference Hall, Dar es Salaam.
[9] The State of Food and Agriculture (Biofuel: Prospects, Risks and Opportunities). FAO, Rome 2008.
[10] The Vice Chancellor’s Palaver is organised under the Mwalimu Nyerere Chair in Pan African Studies. The October 2008 Palaver was in Kiswahili ( Mbongi wa Makamu wa Chuo) on Food and Fuel Crisis.
[11] This concern iaddresses the aims of those who are heavily investing in biofuel in Tanzania. In its concept paper for a biofuel project in Tanzania, SEKAB states 'while Europe has a need for sustainable BioEthanol for fuel, East Africa has the potential to become a large scale net exporter in orders of magnitude currently exported from Brazil. (BioEnergy Investment in Tanzania: Concept Paper; SEKAB Bio Energy Tanzania. December 2008).
[12] See 'The Agrofuel Industry in Tanzania: A Critical Inquiry into Challenges and Opportunities'. A
report by HAKIARDHI, Dar es salaam 2008.

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