AGRICULTURAL POLICY

Between May and October, 1982, a Government task force undertook a major reappraisal of agricultural policy and its implementation in Tanzania with the object of defining alterations to existing policy and new priorities for the nineteen eighties. The results of that exercise are contained in two documents published by the Ministry of Agriculture – the report of the task force itself, “The Tanzania National Agricultural Policy (Final Report)”, dated October, 1982, and the official statement concerning future agricultural policies, “The Agricultural Policy of Tanzania”, dated 31st. March, 1983.

The intention of these notes is to summarise briefly the key changes in agricultural policy set out in the documents and also to provide some comment on the proposals within the context of agricultural development in Tanzania over the preceding decade.

The task force on national agricultural policy was chaired by Professor Simon Mbilinyi, formerly Personal Economic Assistant to the President and now Principal Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture. It was composed of roughly 15 members drawn from relevant Government agencies and from the University of Dar es Salaam. Its terms of reference were broad and its final report is extremely wide ranging, encompassing for example the organisation of agricultural production, land tenure, land use planning, agricultural research and extension, agricultural technology, agricultural marketing and prices, agricultural inputs and the problems and prospects of individual crops. With respect to each of these, as well as other topics, the report (which, incidentally runs into 240 pages) contains both a detailed interpretation of past performance and a set of policy recommendations for the future. It is clear that most of the task force recommendations were subsequently accepted by the Government as components of the new official agricultural policy, since the March, 1983, document is essentially a re-statement of the task force policy proposals with only minor amendments.

The task force report recognises various defects in previous agricultural policy, especially in the areas of motivation for production, agricultural marketing, agricultural input supply and extension. Within each of these areas heavy emphasis is placed on improving incentives, increasing efficiency and rationalising institutional arrangements. The outcome appears to take the form of a perceptible shift towards permitting more market criteria to enter the practical implementation of agricultural policy. However, considerable ambivalence surrounds this intention, since the report also contains a commitment to the existing apparatus of state controls and planning, such that it is difficult to envisage how some of the proposals will achieve their intention (on which more later). Some main policy shifts and the thinking which seem to lie behind them are summarised as follows:

1. The problems for agricultural production in some locations of village size (distance to fields) are recognised. The proposed solution is the concept of Central Service Villages, which would act as the focal point for satellite settlement located closer to production areas. The size of such satellite settlements is not specified in the task force recommendations.

2. Increased security of land tenure is strongly emphasised for all private forms of agricultural production, including the so-called ‘homestead shamba’, the family plot on the village ‘block farm’ and private commercial farms. A minimum leasehold of 33 years is proposed for all such farming in order to give tenants sufficient security to maintain and develop the long-term productivity of their land instead of carrying out short-term, soil-exhausting agronomic practices.

3. The formation of new, private commercial farms is to be encouraged, especially for the production of export crops, or crops needed as raw material for domestic industry. There seems to be a hint here of attempting to promote a new frontier spirit in Tanzania (including for outsiders) to take up the ‘challenge’ of private development under conditions of acute shortage of foreign exchange. (The whole of Canada and USA was opened up for grain production before the invention of the internal combustion engine.’)

4. The high costs and inefficiencies of the former parastatal crop marketing system are recognised. Proposals include:
(a) a reduction of the status of the export crop parastatals to marketing boards concerned principally with the sale, where possible by auction, of export crops;
(b) the concomitant reintroduction of Regional Cooperative Unions as the purchasing agents for all designated crops from Primary Cooperative Societies (villages, or groups of villages). This decision actually pre-dates the task force, but is integrated into its recommendations;
(c) for export crops a target proportion of 75% of the export price to be passed back to farmers. This compares with proportions which fell to as low as 30% for some export crops during the nineteen thirties;
(d) the encouragement of food crop transfers between Primary Cooperative Societies and between Regional Cooperative Unions to meet local variations in food self-sufficiency and to avoid the necessity of centralised procurement of all food crops by the National Milling Corporation;
(e) the associated limitation of National Milling Corporation functions to the delivery of urban food supplies, management of the Strategic Grain Reserve and food processing, especially for urban markets.

5. Some of the defects in the past implementation of producer prices policy, especially the relative neglect of export crops and the failure to adjust agricultural prices in line with inflation are recognised. It is proposed that producer prices should be biased towards export crops with a high net foreign exchange earning capacity and towards food crops, which minimise foreign exchange expenditures in their production, that is, minimise imported inputs. It is also proposed that the price fixing procedure should take account of changes in the cost of living index. In addition, it is recommended that annual farm management surveys are undertaken in order to obtain up-to-date and realistic estimates of production costs.

6. Both the supply of agricultural inputs and the organisation of agricultural extension are recentralised in the Ministry of Agriculture. This recognises the waste and duplication, as well as poor implementation, of the previous decentratisation of those functions to individual crop parastatals and other Government distribution agencies. The new agricultural policy thus represents an ambitious attempt to correct deficiencies in the past implementation of agricultural policies both by correcting perceived weaknesses in existing institutions and by once again modifying organisational arrangements. It also contains a strand of improved private incentives and greater market orientation. The new policy does not, however, challenge the most important implicit assumption of the Government approach to agriculture in Tanzania over the past two decades, which is that comprehensive state controls and planning in every sphere of agricultural activity is necessary in order to achieve centrally-determined targets and objectives. For example, one of the recommendations concerning agricultural production is that every single village in Tanzania should prepare two Master Plans, one on village residential areas and the other on economic activity, showing agricultural production targets, and so on. This may seem reasonable until it is pointed out that there are over 8,000 villages in Tanzania, making for 16,000 proposed Master Plans, and it becomes legitimate to conjecture how exactly the information generated by these plans is to be analysed and assimilated for policy purposes (perhaps each village should have a microcomputer?). Another example in the sphere of agricultural marketing is the reintroduction of cooperative societies and unions without actually abolishing the crop parastatals. It is difficult to see how unit marketing costs are to be dramatically reduced by this proliferation of marketing agencies. It has only to be recalled that one of the major reasons given for the previous abolition of the cooperative unions was their spiralling costs and losses.

7. The problem with extensive Government intervention in a country like Tanzania is that comprehensive controls down to the level of individual village or household require an immense diversion of resources in order to maintain the required administrative apparatus. The magnitude of this cost burden is usually out of all proportion to the gains, which are supposedly made in information and planning. The new agricultural policy unfortunately does not tackle or escape this dilemma. The policy contains numerous sensible suggestions for improving agricultural policy implementation, but there exists a considerable danger that good intentions will be lost in the maze of bureaucratic intricacies which surround them.

Frank Ellis

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