Politicians faulted on food exports

The Citizen Daily, Tanzania, October 20, 2010

Some government technocrats have pointed an accusing finger at politicians for banning exports of food crops in disregard of professional recommendations by experts.

The officials made the allegations in Dar es Salaam yesterday during the national dialogue on the findings of a study on Fostering Equity and Accountability in Trading Systems (FEATS) project in Tanzania, undertaken by the Economic and Social Research Foundation (ESRF), in collaboration with Switzerland-based Consumer Unity & Trust Society (CUTS) International.

“We are working in a very difficult situation… We had advised politicians against the decision to ban food exports but they would not listen to us,” said an official with the ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives who declined to be named.

The official’s remarks were echoed by a colleague from the ministry of Industry, Trade and Marketing, who charged that the ban was “more of a political issue.” “We differed with politicians on this issue as it was not a justifiable decision… As technical people, we feel very bad about it because it is unfair to restrict wananchi from selling their produce,” the official said.

The officials stressed that they have been formulating strategies that focus on improving rural livelihood and eradicating poverty among peasants in the country only to be undermined by politicians.Efforts to get comments from the responsible minister or his deputy were unsuccessful. The permanent secretary in the ministry, Mr Mohamed Muya, said he was at home recuperating from an illness.

“You better contact one Mrs Kaduma; she will assist you with the information,” said the PS. However, Mrs Kaduma could not be reached as she was said to be out of the office.

The theme of the research was “Trade in Agriculture in EAC: Implications on Food Security and Rural Livelihood” ESRF, Ms Monica Hangi, noted that despite the recent ban on food exports - which had currently been lifted temporarily - informal trade between Tanzania and her neighbours was significant and involved exchange of large volumes of commodities.

“Informal cross boarder trade within the region involves staple food like maize, rice and cattle among others,” said the researcher.Adding; “There is very high rate of informality on agriculture trade within the EAC region…About 80 per cent of trade in agricultural produce is informal and not statistically recorded. For example some reports have shown that 400,000 herds of cattle are traded each year between Tanzania and Kenya.”

On his part, the ESRF executive director, Dr Bohela Lunogelo, also echoed the researcher’s sentiments, noting that cases of food crops crossing the border informally were now becoming common.

“Statistics are showing us that food exports are declining and yet crops are still crossing the border without the authorities being aware,” he noted.According to the CUTS, Dr Atul Kaushik said the peasants were the biggest losers when the government decided to ban exports of food crops.

“The move seemed to attack rural livelihood and thus fueling food insecurity as farmers were forced to receive low pay for their produce,” he said during the meeting.The Tanzania Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture (TCCIA) vice-chairman (Agriculture), Mr Harrison Chaulo, said the ban on food exports discouraged farmers from producing more because of meagre prices.

East African Community (EAC) director of trade Flora Musonda admitted that there were still a number of challenges facing intra-trade within the bloc.

The news item can also be viewed at http://allafrica.com