December 2, 2010

Kikwete warns of hard times ahead

President Jakaya Kikwete has warned fellow Tanzanians to brace themselves for harder times, saying dependence on rain-fed agriculture would be the country's undoing. He said the heavy reliance on rains was a major drawback in efforts to produce enough food due to the ever-changing weather patterns, which had made rainfall more erratic."I am worried that Tanzania could be back in its perennial cycle of problems if the rains do not fall in sufficient quantities," he said.

Kikwete, who recently outlined his 13 key priorities, including the economic empowerment, improvement of agriculture, education and power supply, after being elected on October 31, to his second and final five-year term, warned of an impending failure of rains in the coming farming season. He said the period of the short rains, which normally begin in October and end in December, was almost ending without the anticipated downpour to enable farmers to plant their crops.

President Kikwete's warning on the unreliable weather patterns came a few weeks after the Tanzania Meteorological Agency (TMA) warned that there was a possibility of the country getting less rain in the 2010/11 season.The President decried the dependency on rain-fed agriculture, saying that the East African region could produce enough food for its people by adopting to modern agricultural production technologies, and embraced irrigation.

He said the devastating effects of the 2008/09 drought, during which some regions experienced critical food shortages, with livestock keepers, losing thousands of their animals in the northern regions, were still fresh in the minds of many people. "Our agriculture is of low productivity due to dependence on rains and failure to apply appropriate technologies," he said, calling for increased use of high-yielding seeds and fertilisers to boost production.

He hoped the East African leaders would jointly explore the ways and means to make the region the global community's "saviour from what appears to be a food apocalypse". Said President Kikwete: "The question that begs an answer is: Can the East African Community partner countries take a pro-active role to become self-sufficient and a food warehouse for the whole of Africa? I believe we can. Let us put our act together. Let this retreat be the beginning of that steady march towards that noble goal." It was disheartening that only five per cent of the arable land in the region was being put to irrigated agriculture, while there was potential to bring more under cultivation, he added. "We need to ask ourselves about how to leverage modern science and technology to increase food production in our respective countries and the region as a whole." He said Africa no longer got the same level of aid to support its farming, as the Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) to agriculture in Africa declined. "To make matters worse, even our national budgetary allocations to agriculture do not reflect the importance of the sector to our countries. We need to seriously consider the Lagos Plan of Action, which calls for at least 10 per cent of our national budgetary allocations to go to agriculture," Mr Kikwete added. (The Citizen)

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