News Column

Bumper Harvest a Shortlived Joy Syndrome?

July 14, 2014

Bilham Kimati

Records from the Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives indicate that the volume of maize harvested last year increased to 5.3 million metric tonnes from 3.5 million tonnes of the previous year and rice production amounting to 1.3 million metric tonnes.

Recently, the Minister for Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives, Eng Christopher Chiza gave an overview of the food situation in the country indicating that almost all regions received sufficient amount of rainfall and the expected harvest this year should be above average.

"Information gathered from across the regions indicates that another bumper harvest is expected this year," Chiza explained.

Again, the decision by government to sell to Kenya 201,800 metric tonnes of maize with the first batch of 50,000 metric tonnes from the National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA) to be released early next month is a generous gesture.

"There was no reason therefore to turn down request from a neighbour in need and the trade will be closely monitored to make sure that local farmers benefit from the transaction," Chiza explained.

The signing ceremony of the Memorandum of Understanding, which is scheduled for Arusha in the next few weeks, will pave way for implementation of the agreement.

Within the East African region, the market for farm produce is readily available. Farmers need to be guided to benefit from the sales of their produce. Eng Chiza proposes that middle men who dictate crop prices should be closely monitored.

The minister does not play down chances of illegal crossborder trade of grain and insists that both countries have agreed to work closely to make sure that proper revenue collection takes place as a zonal market near Himo in Kilimanjaro is underway. Maize from Tanzania is of high quality and liked in the East African market.

The storage capacity of NFRA is 240,000 metric tonnes, and plans are underway to expand the holding capacity to 400,000 metric tonnes. The minister, NFRA will buy 10,000 metric tonnes of rice from farmers. The most popular and aromatic types of rice are sindano, tule na bwana, shingo ya mwali, nikamate sawa among others.

Nonetheless, it should be remembered that as long as farming techniques in the country depend on rain-fed agriculture instead of irrigation, bumper harvests are bound to be a game of chance Irregular weather patterns lead to erratic rainfall that affects agro-production and the subsequent food shortage.

Chances are wide open for a good harvest in one year to be followed by hardship the following year. Reflecting on the bumper harvest, the nation should realise that the large quantity does not rule out chances for tough times ahead and deliberate and timely measures need to be taken.

Reliability on rain-fed agriculture is as dangerous as food shortage itself. Farmers need to be assisted in adopting modern farming techniques. The adoption of mechanised agriculture coupled with extensive irrigation schemes is not an option but a matter of urgency.

Demonstration farms (shamba darasa) should be set up in all villages bearing in mind that a larger section of the community still practice ancient farming methods irrespective of the huge potential of the fertile land. Land is number one provider of employment.

With regards to storage techniques for family consumption, additional efforts are necessary to teach the people about sustainable food storage techniques for the family's food security. Being complacent hoping for another bumper harvest is the practice which should be discouraged.

The minister pledged effective utilisation of the trained extension officers as thousands of them still remain without employment.

An agriculture expert from Tanzania Prisons Service, Mr Uswege Mwakahesya says farming skills which includes selection of the right type of seeds, irrigation, timely application of the right type of fertilisers, controlled spacing, application of insecticides and other necessary applications could boost production even within a relatively small unit area.

Farmers need to be guided to realise the miracle," Mwakahesya explained during exhibitions at the 38th Dar es Salaam International Trade Fair (DITF) concluded recently at Mwalimu Julius Nyerere grounds, Kilwa Road.

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Source: AllAfrica

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