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05 - 12 September 2007 
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Africa’s Agriculture Needs More than Lip Service

According to President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, Africa is bound to make huge developmental strides if it focuses on improving agriculture. In spite of the admission that agriculture is the backbone of Tanzania's economy, the country is doing very little to make the sector live to its true reputation of being the engine of its development.

News of the government signing contracts geared at investments in non agricultural sectors fills Tanzania's media space. It is however very rare to hear of agricultural contracts, for example, directed towards irrigation, being signed.

As a result, Tanzania's agriculture is retrogressing day by day. The sector is still suffering from the colonial hangover. Colonialists imposed the growing of crops (cotton for example) that were suitable for their industries upon Tanzania. Though good for business, the country is still following the same old pattern of production. No value is added to the crops before export. They are still grown in the same region that was marked by colonial powers. This denies the country jobs as well as the right value for their commodities. To make it worse, government intervention in crop production has lowered the produce. The country is still using colonial era machines to handle the crops. If new ones exist, they belong to private individuals.

Since Tanzania attained independence, how many new ginneries has the government or agricultural stakeholders built? Haven't we been majoring on repairs until the ginneries can be repaired no more? Tanzanians don't value good care of property or buying new ones. They are good at using and destroying.

Farmers are only recognized in print as the government focus goes to white collar office workers. Very few farmer centered workshops are organized to educate farmers. How will farmers improve productivity if they are not exposed to improved farming methods and current advances in agriculture? This gap has however been filled by NGOs - which are also out to fulfill their agendas. Aren’t NGOs supposed to come in only when government efforts have failed? Doesn’t the government tax the citizen with a view of offering services to the citizen? Why then should the government relinquish its responsibilities to the NGOs?

Poor physical infrastructure has immensely contributed to agriculture's underperformance. Rural areas have very poor road networks. The roads are impassable when it rains. Only 8 percent of the 20,000 km road network is fair for use. The plight of Tanzania's farmers has made them politicians' objects of manipulation. With every political rally, the farmer feels that his salvation has come. He is made to adorn T-shirts that read "every Tanzanian can live a good life," without stopping to think if these words apply to them.

According to the book Africa Inakwenda Kombo (Africa is going astray) by Dumnt Rene, a country will never develop if it focuses on increasing the labour force that brings no productivity and dishing highly paid jobs to friends who do not work. The government has become a major industry that does not have something to show apart from inflated expenditures. This ought to be curbed. If not rectified, African governments will destroy African countries.

By Father Robert Kitambo
University of Dar es Salaam

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