THAT Tanzanian economy is an agrarian economy is not a strange statement, it is common in the ears of so many people in the country.
However the level of adherence to this sense raises more doubts if people really understand this. What makes this statement valid lies in two major aspects; employment and contribution to national economy. Nearly 65 per cent of Tanzanian people earn their living through this sector, largely through farming the little pieces of lands in rural parts of the country.
Our national output is made up of a number of sectors; from construction, tourism, mining to communication. Agriculture forms a convincing part of it – contributing 26 per cent to the Growth Domestic Product (GDP). An attribute that makes this sector stand out from the rest is its trickle down capability.
A single twist in the sector, be it positive or negative, affects so many people in it, even the entire economy. No wonder Mwalimu Julius Nyerere had to state this truth in 1982 speech by emphasizing that, “Everything that can be termed as development in Tanzania is a result of the work of Tanzanian farmers”.
Times have changed since then, but relevance of this statement lives on. At this juncture, it will be better if we respond to the question mostly appearing in the corridors of academia, “why we put much emphasis on exportation of products?”, before proceeding further, it is good to note that any emphasis on strengthening exportation is in no way intending, or for that matter should never intend, to diminish the role of domestic market.
For a business to thrive demand is too significant to be taken for granted. A business does so well if it has a fair share of a local market, but it becomes even better if it has unhindered accessibility to broader international markets. The bigger the market the higher the number of consumers, which translates to more profit accrued from more items or services sold.
So, for agricultural sector to excel, size of the market determines its success, and international market provides such an opportunity. Unfortunately, this message rings so negatively with third world countries, and they should be forgiven because it quickly connects that to colonial heritage left by their former masters whose major intention was to exploit this side of the world to enrich the other latitude.
While we may argue on the current globalisation set up, we need not to forget the fact that even before colonisation began in 1400s in Latin America, and later in North America and Africa, the world was still trading with each other. Whereas Northern part of Africa traded with Europe and Middle East, East Africa created business friendship with East Asia (mostly China and India) and Middle East as well.
All these trade routes helped unlocking unused resources while creating broader markets for local products. Fast forward to today’s subject matter, which intends to interrogate the sector’s performance, our agricultural export trend between 2015 and 2019 has been less than appealing. In 2015, Tanzania had a 50.6 per cent share of agricultural exports.
At the time when our total exports stood at 5.8 billion US dollars, raw and processed agricultural products exports were valued at 2.9 billion US dollars. In the following years this share declined to 48.3 per cent, 44.8 per cent, 41.7 per cent, and 43.1 per cent in 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 respectively.
The top five export products have always been tobacco, edible fruits and nuts, oil seeds, coffee, and pulses. Of the leading exports, the only product category that went against the current was edible fruits and nuts, apparently because of the expanding market of horticulture produce in Europe and increased demand of cashew nuts in India and Vietnam.
Another product category which showed some form of resilience was cotton. Although holds the fifteenth position in terms of value of exports it brings to the country, was able to increase from 43.6 million US dollars in 2015 to 85.7 million US dollars in 2018 before taking a hit a little bit in 2019 by exporting a measly 39.4 million US dollars.
The jury is still out on what made this to happen – that might be a discussion for another day – but one thing that is certain is that we have missed a lot during this ‘dark’ period, which includes foreign revenues and jobs.