Interview: Charles John Tizeba, Minister of Agriculture

What impact have global price fluctuations had on Tanzania’s agriculture sector?

CHARLES JOHN TIZEBA: The fluctuation in agriculture commodity prices was compounded by large demand from outside the country. Within the EAC, Tanzania was the sole country with a surplus harvest for a number of staples and cereals in 2016. As a result of the free market system, commodity prices could not be controlled internally and thus rose, while external demand increased significantly. The impact on Tanzanians was felt on both sides, and naturally it depended on whether they were on the buying side of the equation or the selling side. The latter were able to reap the benefits, while the former – the subset of non-farmers – were hit especially hard economically. Although it continues to this day, this period of volatility may soon pass.

Approaching the first harvest season of 2017 and it being the rainy season, prices of commodities introduced to the market are expected to decrease at a steady rate, but this depends on whether there is a bumper harvest and above-average yield. Rainfall forecasts for the southern highlands, and the central and western parts of the country are expected to be above average, thus I am optimistic that it will be a strong harvest season as predicted. Prices will begin to normalise for most of the country’s established commodities and crops. Rain has not yet fallen in pockets of the country, notably Arusha and the northern areas, but overall, this should not have a large impact on agriculture production.

What initiatives are being considered to improve and grow the fisheries segment?

TIZEBA: We have a lot of fishing taking place in the 233,000-sq-km exclusive economic zone in deepwater Tanzania. There were 50 new licences allotted in January and February 2017, with all but two licences given to European fishermen. Unfortunately, all of the fish caught in Tanzanian waters are being exported. Under proposed regulations, more local employment will be generated related to downstream processing. There will also be more incentives for processing to take place locally, as retaining business in-country remains vital.

How can the efficiency of land transactions be improved for smallholder farmers?

TIZEBA: The system we are devising for smallholder farmers will be to aggregate them so they can qualify for private funding from institutions such as the National Microfinance Bank. The farmers are not going to be addressed individually, but rather the smallholder farmers will be aggregated into a sizeable plot of land that will be funded when it becomes successful enough to be economically viable as a medium or large group of landowners. We have a programme that began in January 2017 that selects several farmers and exposes them to new technologies and new breeds in farming and livestock. These farmers will be able to demonstrate to neighbours and the country that implementing recommended changes will increase their crops’ resilience to drought, and strengthen their livestock by making them more resistant to disease.

The Village Land Act of 1999 clearly sets out the regulations and procedures for farmers who own small tracts of land and would like to sell their holdings. Technically, the land in Tanzania belongs to the head of state, but people have traditional and legal rights of occupancy through inheritances or land deeds. The tenure is good for 33 or 99 years. Land acquisition for farming, construction or other reasons is a transparent process in Tanzania, and is determined by village land councils with a proper legal process. Foreigners who want to acquire land in the country do not get the right of occupancy but rather receive a derivative right of occupancy.