March 10, 2003

Famine looms as drought hits Dar

Most parts of Tanzania will face a severe food shortage by June owing to the prevailing drought in the country. The acting Director of the Tanzania Meteorological Agency, Martin Rukando, said last week that the agency was aware of the problem of drought.

Until now, Tanzania has been seen as the bread basket of the region, selling excess grain to the drought-stricken countries of Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe amid a worsening food crisis in Ethiopia and Eritrea in the North and food shortages in southern Sudan, Kenya's North Rift region, and in northwest Uganda. In Uganda, food security concerns continue in the north, where the 2002 harvests from the northeastern region's single season were below normal in Kotido, Moroto and Nakapiripirit districts, the Greater Horn of Africa Early Food Warning Systems said in its January report. Widespread rains in December last year had improved food production in most of East Africa, but a food-shortage crisis in Ethiopia, Eritrea and Sudan is worsening. In Kenya, pastoralists in particular have experienced significant improvements - surface and sub-surface water sources have recharged, while pasture and browse have regenerated markedly during December. However, parts of Baringo, West Pokot, and parts of Marsabit, Mandera and Turkana districts need food aid.

Tanzania's overall food security situation remained satisfactory last December, with farmers in most of the one-season (unimodal) areas holding considerable stocks of grain as well as root crops in their fields while those in the bimodal areas had begun harvesting the short rains crops. Food prices between October and December 2002 were stable in most urban markets, and generally lower than five-year (1997-2001) averages. However, maize prices were higher than average in the southern highlands mainly due to heavy demand from Southern African countries, with which the southern highlands is an active trading partner. A Food Security Information Team report to the government of Tanzania estimated that 177,000 people in nine districts - seven in northern Tanzania (Korogwe, Lushoto, Monduli, Muheza, Mwanga, Same and Simanjiro) and two in the southern coast (Liwale and Masasi) will experience food shortages between January and April.

Early this month, Tanzania's Prime Minister Fredrick Sumaye cautioned Tanzanians of a looming food shortage following poor rains this season. Mr Sumaye, who had toured Morogoro and Dodoma regions to assess the impact of the drought, warned farmers against selling food from their reserves as this could lead to famine if the drought persists. The rain failure could cause most of the country's bread basket regions of Mbeya, Ruvuma, Iringa, Rukwa and Morogoro to run short of food production by between 7 and 25 per cent annual production capacity. Other regions reported to have suffered delays in rainfall are Mwanza, Dodoma, Kilimanjaro and Mtwara. An officer at Songea in Ruvuma region in southern Tanzania told The East African that the drought had already hit Tunduru, Mbinga, Songea and Namtumbo districts in the region, which is famed for maize, beans and tobacco. The official said last year large commercial food buyers bought 2,000 tonnes of food. However, with delayed rains, he said, the region could harvest far less this year. The official estimates that Ruvuma region could lose one third of its crops if the current drought persists beyond mid March. It is also estimated that an average of 16 per cent of all cash crops and 7 per cent of food crops that were supposed to be harvested in the 2003 season have dried. The most hit cash crop will be tobacco, whose leaves have already wilted from lack of water. A source from the Department of Agriculture in Morogoro region told The EastAfrican last week that about 25 per cent of all cash crops and 6 per cent of all food crops would dry up if the rain season does not start this month. The region's only recourse would be last year's surplus harvests of food crops now in grain reserves. It is feared that some of Morogoro's small irrigation canals that criss-cross all the six districts of the region - Morogoro, Mvomero, Kilombero, Kilosa, Mahenge and Ulanga - may dry up if the drought persists, the official said.

In Mwanza, acting Regional Commissioner Ferdinand Mkude, who is also the Nyamagana District Commissioner, told The EastAfrican that drought had affected all districts and a large part of food crops had been destroyed. The Mbeya Regional Commissioner, Mateo Qaresi, said that the crop situation in Chunya district was bad: "The maize crop in the district is drying up and there is no sign of rains coming," he said The Director for National Food Security in the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, Sophia Kaduma, declined comment, saying that she was not the spokesperson. Efforts to contact acting Permanent Secretary Mohammed Kiboko or Director for the Strategic Grain Reserve Albert Ngondo were fruitless. According to the Monthly Economic Review newsletter for December 2002, issued by the Bank of Tanzania, the food supply situation remained "satisfactory owing to a good crop harvest." (The East African, Nairobi)

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