IRINGA, TANZANIA—Farmers need only survey their parched fields during the ever-intensifying dry seasons here to know climate change is happening.
Rain falls less frequently than it did a decade ago because of “destruction of the environment” says Sopian Kinyoge, a 27-year-old farmer. His older sister says rains are more fleeting from “cutting down of the trees.” Alfred Mofuga, 63, simply says, “I cannot know the ways of God.”
Even as the government of Tanzania invests in enhanced food production as a way to fight poverty and raise this country’s standard of living, it faces challenges on many fronts, including resistance from farmers reluctant to change their old ways, and the ongoing difficulty of adapting to a changing—and less predictable—climate.
The country’s official blueprint for reaching its goal of becoming a middle-income economy by 2025 hinges, in fact, on expanding its agricultural production, especially in Tanzania’s relatively fertile southern corridor, where better technologies and methods are expected to improve crop yields exponentially. Other nations have catapulted into the middle-income tier of countries, thanks to agricultural development’s “multiplier effect,” which allows countries to attack hunger and poverty simultaneously, says Tom Hobgood, who heads the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) $77-million Feed the Future program in Tanzania. That’s why USAID and Tanzania’s government are banking on agriculture for the nation’s future. Already agriculture comprises roughly one third of the country’s GDP and employs about three quarters of the population. And working in better climate resilience and nutrition will be essential to reducing poverty and ensuring Tanzania’s future.
Tanzania has ushered in a coterie of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to help support agriculture all along the supply chain. Enterprising firms promising better seeds, fertilizers and outputs are entering into the mix. And the government is also supporting the growth of large farms, too, which they say could employ technology to assist small farmers via local agreements. (Promoting the growth of larger farms, however, may simultaneously set the stage for tensions between them and smaller farms.) “In the past we thought the government could do everything for everyone,” says Tanzania’s Minister of Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives, Christopher Chiza. Now, we know, we can only create a conducive environment for employment, he says.
The government is finding, however, that even with outside help the task is daunting. Scaling up successful projects and even collecting evidence demonstrating that that scale-up would be worthwhile is slow-going. Moreover, basic infrastructural flaws can hinder progress; rain often renders roads impassable, and poor storage facilities leave harvested crops vulnerable to rot, vermin or mold.
The work of the company Cheetah Development exemplifies the promise and obstacles of the new efforts in Tanzania. Cheetah’s Solar Dryer Project, which is in its first year of operation and funded with $300,000 from USAID, aims to slice the amount of food lost after harvest each year. The company sells specialized racks that can be used to dry foods, such as tomatoes and onions, which would otherwise rot if unused. Then it buys back the dried goods and sells them in other locations, such as Zanzibar.
The catch is that although they are addressing one serious problem—postharvest losses—the drying rack enterprise may exacerbate another, poor nutrition, because drying can sap some nutritional value from foods. That’s a reasonable price to pay if the choice is dry food or no food. But farmers in the program can fetch a higher price for dried goods, and so some small farmers say they are trying to dry most or all of their crops, adding that they also feed dried food to their children at home.