This past week there were three commemorations of note: the International Day of the Girl Child (October 11); Mwalimu Nyerere’s 21st death anniversary (October 14), and World Food Day (October 16).
As the Sisters of Fate would have it, the dates were on different days – which enabled us to commemorate them in our different ways.
Our departed Father of the Nation, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere (1922-99) was – according to President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, anyway – “the greatest black man to have ever lived”.
That Mwalimu Nyerere – a black man from an African country in the much-maligned global South – is so glowingly described by a fellow black state president speaks volumes on the great philosopher that Mwalimu was.
On World Food Day this year, thoughts of what Mwalimu stood for regarding self-determination and self-sufficiency flooded me. Back in 1985 when Nyerere was chairman of the-then Organisation of African Unity (OAU, precursor to the African Union), he spoke at length on the reasons why Ethiopia was among 36 other African nations facing food shortages.
In the event, Mwalimu boldly named his own country as one of those facing food shortages. Stating that small-holder agriculture was the cause of food shortages in Tanzania, he also blamed the food distribution systems, stressing that, for example, food shortage in Niger could not be solved by supplies from Tanzania – and vice versa – basically because of the huge infrastructure network challenges of the day.
A good 35 years later, the infrastructural networks may have somewhat improved here and there. But even as the World celebrated the 41st World Food Day anniversary, Africa still lacks the infrastructure that would enable countries to adequately supply each other with food – and with attendant cost benefits.
As if this were still not bad enough, even bigger challenges are the age-old tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade that national governments continue to apply against each other across Africa. This makes it difficult for, say, surplus maize harvested in Ruvuma Region in southern Tanzania to be traded in Uganda or Kenya virtually next-door.
To imagine that Mwalimu Nyerere was so spot-on on what the food production and distribution challenges were – and what we needed to surmount them more than a generation ago – tells you a lot about the calibre of the man’s thinking.
It also highlights the lack of political will to surmount those challenges and ensure that, where food is concerned, there is enough for everyone’s need – and not anyone’s greed!
In all fairness, it must be said that food security – not only in Tanzania but in much of the world – is plagued by systemic challenges across the board at the household, communal and national levels.
But, what is of greater concern is the lack of political will that would otherwise unleash Tanzania’s potential in food self-sufficiency.
As the late business mogul Reginald Abraham Mengi (1943-2019) said in his autobiography ‘I can, I must, I will: the Spirit of Success,’ we must shift from the hand-hoe to commercial agriculture if we are to effectively tap the agricultural potential that Tanzania has.
The situation has not changed much from the Food Vulnerability Report for Tanzania by the World Food Programme ten years ago which – among other things – found that the lack of appropriate seeds, pesticides and awareness leads to vulnerability and food shortages in Tanzania.
As we hopefully look to improved livelihoods, our political leaders must revisit the extant tariff and non-tariff barriers with a view to making them friendly to readily accessing food. This includes going back to the days in the past when travel and trade across the East African Community region was unrestricted.
Seed and fertilizer distribution challenges remain, while high post-harvest losses continue to play merry hell with functional food security.
Plenty of the work associated with improved crop yields is being done by non-governmental organizations – but doing so under very difficult conditions put in place by Big Brother Government.
We seem to know the way to food security, but we just do not seem to have the political will needed to surmount the challenges hampering us.
Kasera Nick Oyoo is a research and communications consult-ant with Midas Touché East Africa