THERE is this famous, dark and bitter saying about Africa that I usually hate the most. It goes by, “Africa consumes that it doesn’t produce and produces what it doesn’t consume”.
If you are skeptic, just sit down and list a number of agri – commodities that we produce and see if we seriously eat them, and then compare that catalogue to the leading consumables in our country and please tell if the gloomy saying above is relevant to us.
Trusting that you have done your homework, I urge you to keep those answers to yourself, at least for now. It goes without saying that Tanzania is part of this trend. As a country, we consume more than 608,000 tons of wheat per year.
This happens when, according to the 2019 Ministry of Agriculture estimations, we produce not more than 63,000 tons of wheat per year. Needless to say that wheat products are highly loved by dwellers in urban cities of Dar es Salaam, Mbeya, Arusha, Mwanza, Dodoma, Zanzibar and Tanga.
United Nations’ projections are very ‘frightening’ as they indicate an increase in population and urbanisation. With the current drive on industrialisation, many people are poised to transit to industrialized major towns from upcountry.
All these inhabitants will be the new ‘recruits’ of chapatti, cakes, pasta, bread and buns, to mention but a few. The 19th century geopolitics connected our country to a western world, albeit. It was at this time when Germans and Britons became our new masters.
These rulers brought to us Maize and Wheat as starch – rich food, in the place of sorghum and millet that we traditionally produced;as well as dry beans in the place of pigeon pea, chick pea and cow pea which are the indigenous crops our ancestors taught us how to produce.
While maize got traction after locals took charge of producing, wheat appeared to be somewhat ‘elitist’ as the role of production was left in the hands of few settlers that were available in the Northern and Southern parts of the country.
Now,a debate may emerge on whether it is important to put an emphasis on the produce that is foreign.Wheat ceases to be foreign at a time when the populace has internalised the food, it snow ours. Tanzania has got plenty of low lands suitable for wheat production than many of her neighbours.
But, we spend more than $225 million per year in importing wheat from countries like Russia, Canada, India, UK, UAE and USA. In other words, we successfully exports jobs worth $225 million every year to those countries. That import bill can finance our Ministry of Agriculture’s budget for about two good years.
Secondly, the efforts to promote wheat, can go in tandem with promotion of other traditional products like sorghum, millet and potatoes without affecting any of them. Wheat is touted to be cereal with the highest protein content.
So to promote this will be to appreciate contribution that each product can bring to health and economy of people. There are so many ways that can be followed in achieving this important dream. I have pointed just two of them.
One, milling companies – which are a countable few, can decide to buy all locally produced wheat from our local farmers before doing any importation. This suggestion comes with full understanding that a ton of wheat transported from Russia is way cheaper than one bought from Rukwa – just miles away.
A call is to do that as part of Corporate Social Responsibility. Farmers are compelled to sell at a relatively higher price because they do incur higher costs too. Contrary to western farmers who enjoys economies of scale by cultivating in large scale farms, our farmers grapple with the whims of small farms year – in – year out.
Logistics is yet another predicament that is bedevilling the sector. May be it is time for Tanzania Zambia Railway Authority (TAZARA) and Tanzania Railway Corporation (TRC) to coordinate properly with wheat farming clusters on the better way they can streamline local transport.
Last week, I read in one of the dailies in Tanzania that Bakhresa Company –East Africa’s largest conglomerate with focus on wheat flour milling – is planning to enter contract farming with mangoes and tamarind farmers in the country. Under this setting, farmers will produce with an assured of market in mind.
It is a no – brainer that the above mentioned products’ production will catapult. Bakhresa and other wheat companies can add wheat into that model and give better results. Two production must be increased. Tanzania, through her companies, is already feeding more than six neighbouring countries.
A company like Bakhresa alone feeds Rwanda 120,000 tons of wheat flour per year. This is not to mention other countries like Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and South Africa, where it has its operations.
It’s unfortunate that wheat supplied to the above mentioned countries comes from overseas and not from Tanzania. Tanzania is just a gateway that reaps little if any from that attractive opportunity. It is time to seriously grow this maiden product. Let’s cease an opportunity.