Saving Tanzania’s Agricultural Sector

By Abisola Adekoya

Deforestation, soil erosion, degradation of water resources and loss of biodiversity, pose a tremendous threat to Tanzania’s economy. The agricultural sector employs nearly 80 percent of Tanzania’s labor force and generates 42 percent of the nation’s income, making environmentally sustainable practices more important than ever.

Farming is an important sector in Tanzania, but land degradation has put a severe strain on food security there. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Unfortunately, not enough is being done to safeguard Tanzania’s ability to feed itself. Inadequate crop rotation practices, deforestation, and overgrazing are just a few of the causes of land degradation throughout the country. As a result, 40 percent of the Tanzanian population is susceptible to chronic food deficiency.

But it isn’t all bad news. Throughout Tanzania, agricultural experts, farmers, and everyday citizens are working to address these issues and at Nourishing the Planet, we are trying to raise the profile of these efforts.

While traveling throughout sub-Saharan Africa, assessing the state of agricultural innovations from cropping methods to irrigation technology to agricultural policy—with an emphasis on sustainability, diversity, and ecosystem health,  we have uncovered a whole slew of innovations aimed at addressing the continent’s agrarian crisis.

The Jane Goodall Institute has been working with communities to develop soil erosion prevention practices, agroforestry and the production of value-added products, such as coffee and palm oil. In the 1990s, the Center began to expand its community development activities after realizing that helping rural populations to increase their sustainable livelihoods opportunities is a vital component of wildlife conservation.

Across Sub-Saharan Africa, AVRDC – The World Vegetable Center has been working to expand the vegetable sector, which in Tanzania and throughout the continent, is severely underdeveloped.  While food insecurity, hunger and drought, has resulted in increased interest in staple crops like cassava, maize, wheat, and rice, vegetables are a more sustainable and affordable way of alleviating micronutrient deficiencies among the poor, maximizing scarce water supplies and soil nutrients, and generating more income for rural and urban farmers alike. In light of these facts, the Center brings farmers from throughout Sub-Saharan Africa to their Regional Center in Arusha, Tanzania to provide training on how to grow, process and cook vegetables.

With the help of a team of scientists from the University of South Africa’s College of Agriculture and Environmental Studies, a group of community members in Cabazane, South Africa are using nets strung up across a nearby mountain pass to harvest water from the air. Using steel cables held by wood posts to support the two layers of shade clothe nets used to catch tiny droplets of water from the passing mountain fog near Brooks Nek Pass. On a good day, residents of Cabazane can collect hundreds of liters of clean water with this contraption.

While the stakes have never been higher and the prospects for eradicating hunger and extreme poverty seem grim, it is important to remember that by focusing on socially and environmentally sustainable practices, innovative Africans (here in Tanzania and across the continent) are working to find solutions to these problems—and many of them are succeeding!

Abisola Adekoya is a research intern with Nourishing the Planet.

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