Without a Proper Road Network, Tanzania’s Agriculture Sector is Doomed to Suffer

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Tanzania’s farmers will be the first to suffer if the country’s government does not make good on a promise to develop the country’s road network. The East African nation has been operating with substandard roads for decades with rural farmers getting the short end of the stick.

Due to potholes, rocky pathways and muddy networks that become impassable during the rainy season, the country’s bread-basket regions have been unable to reach their full potential.

Tanzania’s economy is largely dependent on climate-sensitive sectors such as agriculture, livestock, fisheries, and tourism. This is according to an analysis by Forum CC, Tanzania’s national Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) network on Climate Change, and a not-for-profit, member-based group of over 80 diverse organizations across the country.

Tanzania’s priorities in its 2018/2019 budget are its flagship infrastructure projects and creating a conducive environment for investment and business, especially in the agriculture sector.

However, rampant corruption threatens to derail these developments. In early July 2018, it was announced that Tanzania’s President, John Magufuli was reshuffling his Cabinet in a bid to fight graft.

Since taking office in November 2015, the Head of State has introduced anti-corruption measures and tough economic reforms. Magufuli has enforced cuts to government spending.

As part of his ongoing reforms, he also added an additional Deputy Minister at the Ministry of Agriculture, appointing Omary Tebwete Mgumba to the role.

“Because of the importance of the agriculture sector, President Magufuli has decided to add strength to those that are in charge of the sector,” his office said in a statement issued in early July.

The East African nation hopes to spur investment and boost development by growing the industry. Similar moves have improved the country’s outlook for foreign and domestic investors in the recent past.

Though Tanzania’s competitiveness to investors has slightly improved thanks to a government-backed crackdown on corruption, its infrastructure network could benefit from stricter policies.

A study from the World Economic Forum (WEF) shows that the country could do even better if its government puts emphasis on improving services in institutions, infrastructure, health and primary education.

In its Global Competitiveness Report for 2017 to 2018, the WEF puts Tanzania on position 113 in terms of competitiveness, an improvement from the 116th rank in the 2016-17 report.

Using 12 competitiveness factors, the current report assesses the competitiveness landscape of 137 economies, providing insight into the drivers of their productivity and prosperity.

In light of these developments, Tanzania’s government is currently embarking on a number of flagship infrastructure projects. The East African nation also plans on creating a conducive environment for investment and business, especially in the agriculture sector. Both these initiatives are priorities in the country’s 2018/2019 budget, which was presented earlier this year by Tanzania’s Finance Minister Dr. Philip Mpango.

Dr. Mpango is seeking to improve irrigation infrastructure, warehouses and markets, supply of inputs, dissemination of skills and development of the livestock and fisheries sub-sectors.

His Ministry has allocated funds to support electricity generation, construction of the standard gauge railway (SGR) and improving regional and rural road connectivity, air and marine transport.

However, these developments will be rendered null and void if they are not properly implemented. Dozens of economies across the globe rely heavily on agriculture to support their populations. Many of them have failed to break out of a cycle of poverty due to a lack of roads and railway lines linking smallholder farmers to regional and international markets.

This issue has been a cause for concern all across East Africa, where smallholder farmers are major drivers of economic growth. Rural dairy farmers in Kenya for instance, have partnerships with milk processing companies. However, poor roads mean that billions of shillings are lost across the dairy sector’s value chain due to wasted time and the high cost of transportation resulting from these problems.

Tanzania faces similar problems.

The country is working on the construction of a Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), new trunk roads, the revival of the ailing Air Tanzania Corporation, as well as the expansion of airports and various ports.

It has emerged that the country’s government is allocating 12.9% of its total budget – an estimated $2.1 billion – to the development of major infrastructure projects aimed at making Tanzania a middle-income economy in the next seven years.

According to the Finance Ministry, about $700 million has been earmarked for the construction of the SGR between Dar es Salaam-Morogoro and Morogoro-Makutopora in the capital city of Dodoma.

All these developments may be top on the government’s agenda, but they will mean nothing if their deployment is not executed properly.

This has been proven time and again in places like Mozambique and even in Nyamira County in Kenya, a region heavily reliant on agriculture. In Nyamira, farmers sometimes face heavy losses when they are unable to transport their profit to neighbouring markets.

And in Northern Mozambique, a region that produced 3.3 million tonnes of grain and over 500,000 tonnes of vegetables in the 2017 harvest season, poor roads threaten hundreds of stakeholders across the country’s agriculture value chain.

In Ethiopia, a number of successful industrialisation efforts are helping develop the country’s agriculture sector. The country has been linked to other regional markets through its Kenya-linked transport corridor.

The Ethiopian government began a sustained effort to improve its infrastructure of roads in the late 90s as the first part of a 10-year Road Sector Development Program. As a result, Ethiopia now has more than 33,000 km of roads, both paved and gravel.

Tanzania can learn from these developments, which have helped Ethiopia become a more industrialized nation. While Tanzania’s efforts are commendable, the pace at which its road and railway networks are being developed could be faster.

As long as solid momentum in terms of infrastructure growth is maintained, Tanzania could become a leading economic powerhouse, not just in Sub-Saharan Africa, but across the entire continent as well.

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