TWO LETTERS FROM TANZANIA

From J.P. Orasa, Agricultural Officer, United Republic of Tanzania:
I am writing to comment on Mr. Roger Carter’s article on ‘Tanzania’s food problem’, which appeared in the Bulletin of Tanzanian Affairs No.15 of July, 1982.

Throughout the twenty one years of Tanzania’s independence the question of food has consistently received top priority, but the results of various programmes and planning exercises have had no meaningful results, as the food situation has not been steadily improving. It is, however, fortunate that the situation has not gone out of Government control, although the import bill is scaring.

Mr. Carter has rightly pointed out that the causes of Tanzania’s failure to feed itself are complex. In addition to the problems enumerated by him, the demand for food is exaggerated by certain food-eating habits. As it may have been noted, the food problem in Tanzania is based on the supply and consumption of maize, rice and wheat. These are the most preferred cereals that form the main staple grains. Maize is the most consumed; the per capita maize consumption between 1975 and 1977 was 82.9kg, or 63.8% of all cereals consumed including sorghum and millet.

The majority of Tanzanians still cling to maize meal because it can easily be accommodated within the household financial limits. An indigenous coastal dweller does not willingly part with his rice meal, just as a Southern Highlander would not like to miss his maize meal. As a consequence of these dominant and sometimes inflexible food habits certain food crises or shortages are more apparent than real. These food habits indirectly control the tastes and palatability of food. It is probably because of these habits that the sorghum and millet preparations are not as popular as those of maize, rice and wheat. By using better shelling methods and if more research into possible preparations of delicious sorghum dishes is carried out, this dry-weather resistant crop will save the nation from frequent spells of food grain hardships. The move away from millet, sorghum and cassava over the years into maize, rice and wheat has increased the burden on the producers of these cereals, who have been unable to cope with consumer demand.

Up until now there are villagers in many of the rural areas who are not aware of the food problem facing the country. In their small plots scattered here and there they produce bananas, sweet potatoes, yams, majimbi (a kind of root spinach), round potatoes, cassava, etc. in addition to cereal crops. These people have sufficient food throughout the year. But as the same people move to urban areas they tend to shy away from these traditional food items, thereby increasing the demand for cereal crops. If these indigenous foodstuffs were preserved and distributed to areas facing food shortages, the growers would be encouraged to produce more and the demand for cereals would decrease.

Another problem that aggravates the food situation is the lack of adequate storage and transport facilities. As a result the food piling up in one Region cannot be moved to areas requiring it in time. For example, the surplus maize in Ruvuma and Rukwa Regions in 1980-81 could not be fully utilised before it got spoiled. This year about 55,300 tonnes of round or Irish potatoes in Iringa Region failed to get to market in time due to transport problems.

Thus, the food problem of Tanzania does not arise simply because the country cannot produce enough to feed her people. Much of the surplus food is spoiled for lack of proper storage and because of an unsatisfactory distribution system. A substantial amount of local produce, including fruits and vegetables, cannot find markets. If this problem could be solved, there might even be a surplus of some products for export.

J. P. Orasa

From the Right Reverend George Briggs, written from Mtwara:
One of the first impressions of someone who is returning to Tanzania after several years’ absence is the startling increase in the size of the population. When I first knew Mtwara during the war years it was a small fishing village and now it has a population (together with Mikindani) of 60,000. Its new start in life occurred shortly after the war as a result of one of the British Government’s less successful initiatives – the ill-fated Goundnut Scheme. Mtwara was the railhead where the nuts would arrive from up-country and the port from which they would be despatched to their destinations. Well, the project came to nothing, but Mtwara has since grown to become a Regional headquarters.

I learned only yesterday that four or five cashew nut processing factories have been built at great expense in this area, where cashew trees are abundant, but that they are all standing idle. Why? Because the market for these nuts is mostly in America, where they offer a small price for the processed nut and a much larger one than Tanzania can afford to ignore for the whole nut. The point is that this nut has several valuable properties apart from its kernel- properties which Tanzanians were hoping to exploit through their factories. But now …! Is it surprising that Nyerere is mad with the Western world? As if USA could not afford to forego its profits on the processing of cashew nuts and leave them to a developing country which needs them very badly.

If Sunday attendance at church is anything to go by, then the Christian religion is in good heart in Tanzania. Recently I have had opportunities to attend churches other than the one here, two in Dar es Salaam and two up-country, and the congregations were all impressive, as indeed they are here at Mtwara. Self-support in terms of cash is improving too. The factor which for some of us is a worry is the almost total absence of voluntary service, either for the church, or for anything else. This is an essential element, surely, in the Christian religion; without it a parish, a diocese, or other ecclesiastical unit is defective. This apparent absence of a spirit of self-giving comes out, I think, in the fact that very few of our ordinands have had more than a primary education. The minimal response to vocations- presuming they are there!- from people with a good academic record is very disturbing.

As in many poor societies, theft, bribery and corruption are rife in Tanzania. I mention this, as I have suffered from it twice during the short time I have been in this country. On the first occasion I was relieved of all my money as I was boarding a bus for Korogwe in Dar es Salaam. Fortunately, I discovered what had happened before the vehicle started and so was saved from what would have been an embarrassing situation. The second time was at 4 p.m. on a Saturday, when most of us on the compound were in church at evensong; the housebreakers had a rare field day when they got into my bedroom and found the contents of four suitcases lying about. I was in the middle of unpacking them. I regret most the loss of a cassock (alb) made for me by a Carmelite nun in Mauritius, which I had not worn. There is no benefit provided by the state here for unemployed school leavers and they, together with soldiers returned from Uganda, are said to make up a large proportion of the culprits.
+ George Briggs

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