East Africa food scheme aims to stop the rot, boost trade
02 June 2016, 20:55
Nairobi (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The huge stock of maize Jumanne Masele put aside last year was enough to spare his family from hunger and earn him cash to repay his debts - or so he thought.
A short while after Masele had finished stuffing the grain into a traditional storage cocoon, he realised much of it had been infested by fungus as ground moisture from heavy rain seeped in through the bottom of his store made of dried soil, sticks and grass. "There was nothing I could do to salvage my grains - it was a total loss," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Despite a bumper harvest, the farmer, 44, from Mbumi village in the east Tanzania district of Kilosa lost most of his crops, threatening his family's food supply.
"I still don't know how to store my harvests - traditional techniques are no longer effective as the grain easily rots when we get unexpected extra rains," Masele said.
Agriculture is the backbone of Tanzania's economy, providing work for more than four fifths of the population.
The rural sector accounts for over half the country's gross domestic product and export earnings, according to national statistics.
Yet as Tanzanian farmers struggle to market their crops, nearly 40 percent of grains are lost to poor storage and extreme weather, costing the nation $332 million every year, the government says.
Efforts are underway to curb these losses. Since 2013, smallholder farmers in nine African countries have been getting help to trade staple foods across borders and store their crops better under a five-year programme managed by Development Alternatives, Inc (DAI), a U.S.-based company that works with the private sector to overcome barriers to development.
As part of the FoodTrade East and Southern Africa programme,
funded by the British government, a £3 million ($4.3 million)
grant was announced in April to enable 70,000 smallholder
farmers in Tanzania and Uganda to access regional export
Those two countries produce a surplus of staple foods almost
every year, whereas Kenya only grows enough to feed itself one
year in five, according to lead agency Farm Africa.
STEP TO SELF-SUFFICIENCY
Until recently, high tariffs on trade within East Africa
meant it was cheaper for Kenya to import crops from outside
Africa, but recent policy developments have removed barriers to
regional trade, Farm Africa said in a statement.
Since 2012, grain trade policies under the East African
Community Customs Union have made it easier for farmers to sell
their produce to nearby countries.
Steve Ball, country director for Farm Africa Tanzania, said
the new project's push to promote food trade was a step towards
agricultural self-sufficiency in the region, and would help lift
tens of thousands of small-scale farmers out of poverty.
Such farmers grow 80 to 90 percent of staple crops in the
region, Farm Africa noted.
Local experts hope the FoodTrade scheme will curb
post-harvest losses while increasing the amount of grain crops
for sale outside the peak harvest season.
"(It) will help poor farmers who don't have the resources to
invest in better storage facilities for their crops," said Edith
Kija, an agricultural consultant and extension officer.
Lucy Mtemvu, Masele's neighbour in Mbumi, who also stocks
maize, rice and beans while waiting for market prices to rise,
lost most of her crops last year and the year before after they
were invaded by rodents.
Local farmers struggle to find a ready market for their
produce as millers who previously bought the grain now rarely
come after the roads were destroyed by rains, she said.
A 90 kg bag of rice fetched 140,000 Tanzanian shillings
($64) a few years ago. "But now you can hardly get 90,000
shillings - if you are lucky enough to sell," she added.
CREDIT FOR FARMERS
Tanzania's fight against hunger received a major boost from
the government's "Big Results Now" initiative which raised maize
production from 100,000 hectares (247,105 acres) per year to
350,000 hectares in 2016. But it is only now that the effects of
poor grain storage are becoming clear, analysts say.
Tanzania, through its National Food Reserve Agency, owns 33
storage facilities with a total capacity of 246,000 metric
tonnes, but officials say that is insufficient.
Farm Africa and its partners will help Tanzanian and Ugandan
smallholders store their surpluses of rice, maize and beans.
The farmers will initially sell products to more than 100
moisture-controlled depots with the capacity to stock up to 500
tonnes each and carry out quality checks.
The farmers will also get access to G-Soko, an online
marketing platform run by the East African Grain Council,
through which they can sell their maize or beans across the
region via certified warehouses.
Once issued with a warehouse receipt, farmers can use it as
collateral to obtain finance. That will prevent them having to
sell for a low price after harvest and buy high later.
The project will also enable smallholder farmer cooperatives
to sell their grain collectively, and build strong links with
grain traders, incentivising them to grow a larger amount of
Jacob Kilasi, who lives with his family in a mud-walled
shack in Mbumi, lost most of his harvest two years ago when the
village was engulfed by floods, destroying stocks of food.
To avoid further losses, Kilasi - who grows maize, rice and
pineapples - resolved to sell his crops earlier when prices are
"If I wait, the grains will be infested by insects, and I
will get nothing," he said.
Another FoodTrade project in Kenya has attracted 10
warehouses and five banks which have so far provided credit
against warehouse receipts for up to 150 million Kenyan
shillings ($1.49 million).