Tanzania can become world food basket

Deo Mushi

WAS recently impressed when Nigerian business leader Aliko Dangote dominated the world on Wednesday, after various media outlets quoted him after he had addressed a meeting in New York.

Dangote repeated the following word before a group of investors “Agriculture, agriculture, agriculture. Africa will become the food basket of the world soon”, he said amid applause from African leaders.

The packed meeting room at the headquarters of global law firm Shearman and Sterling LLC high level business leaders and international diplomats remained silent, as delegates followed the discourse quietly.

This businessman who operates a cement factory in Mtwara was invited by the Corporate Council for Africa alongside Rwandan president Paul Kagame who openly conversed on Africa’s opportunities and challenges.

It was really impressing to observe that both leaders underscored the ongoing movement to diversify African economies.In the case of Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, Dangote stated “We should pray that oil prices remain low.

This helps wean us off the dependency on revenues from petroleum. We must take oil to be the icing on the cake. We already have the cake,” he added.

In addition to agriculture Dangote cited Nigeria’s vast mineral resources and gas, as well and the need to manufacture more goods locally for domestic consumption, just like our own president John Magufuli has been insisting now and then. I was impressed to note that both Dangote and President Kagame were citing continued need for heavy investments in education and connected the need for young people to be well trained for the jobs of tomorrow.

Look at what I saw Dangote predicting “Five of the twelve million jobs needed in Africa soon must be created in Nigeria” and I said to myself - this is the point that Tanzanian business community should also look at seriously, if we need to improve our people’s lives. As some of us know, Dangote’s fortune which stem from cement, sugar, and other household commodities has expanded into fertilizer and other processed high-value goods.

At any for a when given time, Dangote usually utter the following words “Technology helps us a lot, and our factories are state of the art with the use of robotics but we shouldn’t be overly tech oriented to create wealth”.

Dangote who is often cited as one of the most inspiring business leaders in the world today and a model for young entrepreneurs offered advice to Americans who tend to rely on outdated news and wrong perceptions of Africa.

This is what he told them “Don’t be lazy. Go to Africa and find the real story for yourself. Things have changed”. He noted the Rwanda success story where he has business interests as an example of positive change, good governance and leadership, and where corruption has been cured.

He also cited a personal experience of offering a 100 US dollar tip for services at the Kigali Airport to staff who refused to take money for work they were paid to do. President Kagame was praised for delivering the environment for growth he promised insisting that there was nothing African about corruption.

It was a good coincidence that the session was moderated by Rosa Whitaker, former US Trade Representative and author of the AGOA (African Growth Opportunity Act), whose business consultancy is credited for helping both African governments and US companies develop commerce.

There was another meeting in New York around that time, where the US president Donald Trump told African leaders that their continent has tremendous business potential.

“So many friends go to your countries to get rich” Trump said when he hosted a lunch with African Heads of State at the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

According to Trump, Africa has tremendous business potential which represents huge amounts of different markets. I recently read the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report which showed that the government of Tanzania was intending to use agricultural development as the main engine towards reaching middle level income status for the country by 2025.

To support Tanzania achieve that target, said the report, three priority areas were mentioned, which were - promoting agriculture as a profitable business, increasing agriculture productivity in selected agricultural commodities and engaging smallholder farmers and traders successfully in marketing and commercialization of agricultural produce.

I think if Tanzania can have sustainable management of natural resources, proper management of natural resources and a proper agricultural development planning, the country can export food crops.

The country should also have availability and effective use of reliable, accurate and up-to-date agricultural statistics that reflect food and nutrition security situation. That should be coupled with effective and efficiently coordinated agricultural sector development planning and sector investment support.

FAO 2016 reports show that agriculture is important to the economy in Tanzania as it provides 30 percent of GDP, 80 percent of employment and contributes 85 percent of export earnings annually.

With a mix of plantation and smallholder crops like coffee, pyrethrum, sisal, and cotton, the majority smallholders can grow food crops for domestic consumption, with surpluses feeding the towns.

Since growth in agriculture has risen of the order 6 - 7 percent annually in recent years as FAO says, the country can can be self sufficient in food and also export the surplus.

Increased productivity can enable the country help about 40 percent of those employed who currently live below the national poverty line.

This clearly indicates low productivity and considerable decent work deficits such as underemployment and working poverty. The majority of agro-producers have remained poorly informed of opportunities in regional and international markets.

Tanzania still needs some frameworks to promote investment and also improve the role of its private sector, and if such things are done well on time, we shall definitely reach where Dangote intends us to be.

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