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Reap What You Sow

Tanzania’s agriculture sector has indisputable potential. It currently represents nearly 30% of the country’s GDP, and employs nearly 70% of the population. A vast amount—almost half—of Tanzania’s total land mass is arable land.

And yet, as of 2016, only 5% of all cultivated land in Tanzania was irrigated. This represents 461,000ha of an available 29.4 million ha. Given that irrigation can literally double crop yields by enabling two harvests a year, it is not difficult to see why the Tanzanian government, through the Ministry of Water and Irrigation, is setting itself such ambitious targets.
Around 80% of Tanzania’s population relies on rain-fed, seasonal agriculture. Supply is therefore erratic and unreliable, and food security is becoming more and more an area of concern. Irrigation would do away with this dependence on climactic conditions, mitigating the impact of global warming on agricultural productivity.
Not only that, Tanzania is well positioned, as enthusiasts put it, to become the proverbial “bread basket“ of the region. While it is true that many Sub-Saharan countries compete for this title, there is no denying that Tanzania, with eight neighbors, is blessed with geographical advantage.
For example, Tanzania is currently a lead exporter of rice to Malawi and Kenya. With irrigation infrastructure in place, yields doubled, and the domestic market more than saturated, there is scope to increase exports to these markets, seek out further opportunities in the region, and even look further afield to the Far East, where food shortages are increasingly a threat.
In spite of this massive potential, up until recently, irrigation in Tanzania has not been a priority. Why? Because irrigation infrastructure is relatively expensive to construct, requiring high initial investments and a long wait for return on those investments. Instead, successive Tanzanian governments have focused on other areas and quick fixes for agricultural shortcomings, like fertilizer usage and seed improvements.
Recently, this has begun to change with the forming of the Tanzanian National Irrigation Commission, amendments to the 2009 National Irrigation Policy, and a cash boost of TSZ39 billion (USD17 million) from the national budget in 2016 earmarked for irrigation-related developments.
That said, irrigated land in 2014 weighed in at just under 500,000ha, meaning there is still a way to go to meet the 1 million mark. It is hoped that pioneer projects such as that being implemented in Kimamba village, in Kilosa district, just east of Dar es Salaam, will add a few more hectares of irrigated land to the total count.
A feasibility study has shown that this project, which will comprise construction of irrigation infrastructure and a dam on a 2,400-ha farm, will cost TSZ90 million (USD39,260). To meet the costs, the Tanzanian government has entered into partnership with the Chinese government to create an “Agricultural Park“ with irrigated and developed land available for lease by Tanzanian farmers.
On the whole, however, private sector investment in irrigation is lacking, and this is where Tanzania needs to focus its attention if it wants to meet its 2020 deadline. There are calls for, first and foremost, more dialog with the private sector, followed by increased incentives to counterbalance the high initial costs, improved certainty regarding land ownership rights, and promises of better coordination among key stakeholders—development partners, small-holder farmers themselves, and the government—in order to accelerate investment. PPPs have proven to be a successful model for combining these incentives so long as there is active participation from all key stakeholders, especially the government.
A Herculean task that could also reap economy-shifting results, the irrigation of 1 million ha of land could help Tanzania sow more than just seeds twice a year.

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