A small holder farmer tending to her farm: Can she produce enough food to feed herself and her family?
WHETHER we get enough rains or insufficient rains, Tanzania is used to deafening hunger outcry. The problem is not that of enough rains or not, but one of wrong agricultural policies.
This problem however, is not exclusively a Tanzanian situation alone; but one of Africa in general. Why and how? Is there a cure ahead?
Out of the 40 countries in the world facing severe food shortages to the extent of requiring emergence food intervention, Tanzania inclusive, 26 of them are in Africa, while the rest are in Asia and Central America.
A host of arguments, some seriously lame are advanced to the contrary. These include change in climate and rainfall, natural disasters, low investment in agriculture, poor infrastructure, inadequate use of inputs and technologies as well as overdependence on rain fed agriculture. But if I can ask: Is that all? Are we not mincing words?
In my view, and if I can say it aloud, there are in fact no “hungry countries” in the world; there are simply countries with greater or less number of people living in them who cannot grow enough, or buy enough food to feed themselves and their families.
In this respect, there is no essential difference between a Third World nation and the United States, where the Bureau of Census reported some few years ago that, “eight to ten million Americans are sick or starving because they do not have enough to spend on food”.
Westerners tend to ascribe this situation, to galloping population, climatic acts of God such as drought, or to laziness and lack of initiative on the part of the poor themselves.
Such explanations are not only insulting, they are mythical; population pressures can aggravate hunger, but they do not “cause” it.
Not only do the poor need children in societies like Tanzania, where social security schemes are rudimentary or non-existent, it can also be shown that the Third World countries now are doing the best job of feeding their populations, actually have the “least” land per inhabitant.
The four Asian countries generally credited with feeding their people tolerably well – China, Vietnam, South Korea, Malaysia and Taiwan, have the least land of all Asian Countries. India has twice as much as land per head as China; Bangladesh twice as much as Korea.
China knew famine nearly every year when it was a country of 500 million people. Now there over 900 million Chinese and all of them are getting enough to eat. If these Asian countries can feed their people, then, surely, so can Africa where the continental average of cropland per rural person is 0.90 hectares, compared to only 0.35 in Asia.
All the figures point to the fact that the “structure” of landholding, in other words, social organization has more to do with eradicating hunger than the total number of people to feed.
The small peasant who gives tender loving care to the little he possesses is the most effective cultivator in the Third World. If he has access to inputs, the benefits of agricultural research, someone to supply him with cheap credit, and most especially to land itself, he could, and would, solve the world food problem, contrary to what propagators of “Green Revolution” or “KILIMO KWANZA” would like us to believe.
Unfortunately, not only land and inputs, but credit to buy them, are usually reserved for the “best risks”, obliging the smallholder to resort to the unsavory usury network for his cash needs. According to the World Bank, some of the worst offenders in this area are African countries.
Tanzania in particular and Africa in general, is also one of the outstanding victims of another system guaranteed to create and perpetuate hunger: the cash crop.
That so many young nations like ours, have not yet rid themselves of colonial agricultural patterns inherited from a world they never made, is one of the great tragedies of our time. A UN study covering six major African countries shows that commercial, export oriented agriculture has done better than food production for the past 25 years in every country studied. The argument for cash crop is, of course, is one of “We need the foreign exchange”.
Cash crop producers do not control the prices of their primary products. The point therefore is for dependent countries to attain self-reliance in food before worrying about cash crops. There is no country in the world that could not adequately feed its own people – and then some – if this were a priority policy objective.
There are, unfortunately, manifold obstacles to choosing such a course, not the least of which is the very degree of dependence many poor nations have now attained. All the rich nations (the G.8) have made a concerted, long-term effort to induce local planners to “choose” models of development which are geared first and foremost, to the advantage of the rich countries themselves. All the aid to their former Sub-Sahara colonies has consistently favoured finance for cash-crop schemes over food production for local consumption.
The United States, mainly through its Agency for International Aid (USAID), has made the longest, best financed and consequently most successful effort towards bringing Third World citizens around to “thinking American”. As a USAID official himself once testified to the US Congress some four years ago, “Our basic, broadest goal is a long range political one. It is not development for the sake of sheer development……An important objective is to ensure that foreign private investment, particularly from the United States, is welcomed and well treated. The problem is to evaluate the manner in which the [USAID] programme can make the greatest contribution to the totality of US interests”.
No doubt, that is why the US is currently demonstrating a very marked interest in Africa, which she had traditionally neglected in favour of Asia and Latin America.
In some ways, Africa is better off than Asia or Latin America for the very reason that it has been, until recently, comparatively neglected. It has not been afflicted, for instance, with the “benefits” of the “Green Revolution”, except for limited areas, Tanzania been one recently on such suicidal move.
Elsewhere, this formula for agricultural development has not only increased dependence on the costly imports that alone can make the new “miracle” seeds work; – it has also increased social inequalities and made the lives of millions of small peasants miserable.
Furthermore, land distribution in Africa is generally more equitable than on the two poor continents. This means, if the small peasant is given incentives for producing food – not cash crops for the affluent – the goal of eliminating hunger and undernourishment could be reached in most African countries without major upheavals.
But the era of such “benign neglect” of Africa has come to a close as far as the multinational corporations and multilateral funding institutions like the World Bank are concerned. The Bank has dramatically increased its hold on recipient countries in terms of agricultural policies. If these countries are not careful, the Bank itself tends to take over the social and political management of whole areas.
Again, many development “experts” tend to see the elimination of hunger as a question of technology. “Give them enough fertilizers, pesticides and tractors”, they say, “and the problem will be solved”.
They seldom recognize that any technological innovation has an impact on the social structure, and that, if specific steps are not taken to prevent it, technology will benefit only cash crop production and the wealthiest farmers. Such questions as, “who can pay for fertilizer, machinery, etc? are not asked. Innovations useful to village communities may even be suppressed.
Nearly, everyone is now pushing for increased production in the Third world itself as the answer to world hunger. Unfortunately, another question that is almost never asked is, “production for whom?”
So long as the poorest bottom half of the population in poor countries is not given adequate access to land, inputs, credit and fair market price, we shall continue starving until hunger does us apart.
So long as nations allow themselves to be trapped in a system which the rich hold all the cards, they can increase production “ad infinitum”, – but it will go to those who already have plenty.
There is no hope for eradicating hunger via technology because it is not a technical problem. It is a question of economic and social justice at every level. Somewhere in the world, 10,000 people die every day because these truths have not been recognized. Tanzania been in the same bandwagon under “Kilimo Kwanza” is a likely candidate to committing such suicide.
It would appear, we are all out to go astray further to miss the point. We are being reminded days in days out by those at the helm that one of the factors that discourage foreign investors is the so-called “uncertainty with land tenure system”. The government, having bowed down to foreign pressure on the issue is now all out to legitimize a policy of Individualization, Titling and registration (ITR) of land which will create open land market, to allow alienation of land to the investors without community intervention.
All this is taking place in a country occupying 945,087 square kilometers with a population of over 40 million people, growing at 3.5 per cent annually; the poorest of the world living below the poverty line; where the over 200 million heads of cattle crave for pasture in a shrinking fallow land, in which one head of cattle requires 3.5 – 4.0 hectares for feeding each year.
Geological surveys also indicate that, almost the whole country (about 800,000 square kilometers) is endowed with deposits of precious minerals, as foreign mineral prospecting companies descend like vultures over a carcass for scramble and dismemberment of our motherland.
This means, if a total mining onslaught is launched on the land without due regard to checks and balances, only 145,087 square kilometers of land will be available for both agriculture, animal husbandry and national parks.
Given such bleak situation, there is urgent need to balance the needs for land use between the competing stakeholders, namely, the rising population and the investors, for the benefit of the present and future generations.
It was the Father of the Nation, Mwalimu Julius K. Nyerere, who warned us in 1963, just two years after Tanganyika’s juridical independence saying: “In a country such as this (Tanganyika), where generally speaking, the Africans are poor and the foreigners are rich, it is quite possible that within eighty or a hundred years, if poor Africans were allowed to sell their land, all land in Tanganyika would belong to wealthy immigrants, and the local people would be tenants”.
Indeed, this is likely to hold true soon in our country under the new envisaged land tenure system at the peril of the poor.
Plans by international agencies in countries like ours, should be accepted with reservations. Indeed, it was the World Bank’s post-colonial three years development plan, echoing the earlier cold war dreams of Rastow and Arthur Lewis, which set most African countries on the perilous course which led to where we are today.
It was the World Bank’s economists who laid stress on the production of the so-called “cash crops” at the expense of food crops; who made it easier to secure credits for the production of tea or cocoa rather than rice or maize; who stimulated through the one sided notions of “rural development” disproportionate and unbalanced growth between the urban and rural sectors which is one of the most serious problems in the current development efforts in our country.
The so-called “Green Revolution” is always a harbinger of more substantive changes to come. It is all more the reason, therefore, that we now took stock of our envisaged agricultural production policies, otherwise we are likely to continue starving until hunger does us apart.
Indeed, oil based modernization per se cannot solve the problem of hunger, and encouraging such policy will make us ever more dependent and perpetual open bowl beggars of crumbs at international begging tables.