Impressions from Tanzania: Pathways to Productivity Project

Jan 31, 2013

Household Baseline Training for West Africa, Mali

Photo: Wiebke Foerch

By:  Anna Applefield, Research Associate, Global Food Security Project, The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)

In December 2012, the CSIS Global Food Security Project and the Africa Program traveled to Tanzania to learn about attitudes towards GMOs and the role the technology might play in enhancing food security in the region.

On our trip, we found the debate extremely active. There are a number of stakeholders involved in the debate including agricultural scientists, farmers, NGOs and donors, commercial farmers, and a range of government officials from the Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Agriculture, and the Ministry of Science and Technology. President Kikwete’s recent launch of Kilimo Kwanza, a new agricultural development strategy and a major national priority, may help ensure that this discussion stays at the fore of the policy arena in Tanzania.

Historically, Tanzania has been restrictive of GMO technology. They have fully adopted the Cartagena Protocol, and its strict liability clause has made it impossible for seed companies and/or agricultural scientists to bring the technology to Tanzania. In this way, Tanzania differs from its neighbors in Kenya and Uganda who have partially adopted the Protocol and developed different regulations surrounding biotechnology to permit initial research on GMO crops. Hesitancy around biotechnology has had some economic consequences for Tanzania. For example, in 2008 Tanzania undertook the Gates-funded Water Efficient Maize for Africa project, which funds African scientists working with Monsanto to develop varieties of maize that will be more resilient in the East African climate. Although Tanzania agreed to help develop and run trials for both transgenic and non-transgenic varieties of maize, its regulatory structure has hampered progress on the transgenic varieties and for a time even jeopardized its ability to proceed with WEMA efforts.

While it remains unclear whether Tanzania will move forward in removing strict liability and adopting GM technology, Tanzania is very focused on agricultural development as a key part of its economy. As the government continues to grapple with the controversial GMO issue and develop strategies to improve the agriculture sector, we have identified 3 key areas that merit attention and focus:

1.    Increased collaboration and communication. The current debate over GMO technology is extremely lively. With increased communication between scientists, environmentalists, farmers, and policymakers, misinformation could be minimized to allow for a clear and productive discussion. It seems that there are areas of clear overlapping priorities and interests that could be exploited while some of the more controversial issues are worked out. There is also a great deal of external investment in Tanzania, due to major projects such as SAGCOT, Feed the Future, the Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, and the Millennium Challenge Corporation, among other major aid programs. This has put increased pressure on the Tanzanian government to coordinate effectively, maintain transparency, and achieve development results quickly. Investing in greater capacity in government staff can help ensure success in the eyes of the international community and domestically.

2.    Seed industry development. Experts have estimated that Tanzania produces less than one third of the seed it needs to meet demand for maize. Historically, Tanzania’s seed has been produced by public sector agriculture programs. When Tanzania opened its markets and changed its economic structure in the 1980s, there was a decline in seed availability which has yet to be filled. Without this public service, the NGO sector has filled this gap. In an effort to protect farmers from counterfeit seed and shield them from seed price volatility, NGOs encourage farmers to save their seed and only buy new seed every few years. While this is a safe solution, reusing seed in this way can lead to declining productivity, and means that farmers are not able to access the most advanced, appropriate seeds for their environment. Restoring and empowering public sector agencies, such as The Tanzania Official Seed Certification Institute, which is responsible for reducing counterfeit seed and certifying seed, can help farmers feel comfortable experimenting with new seed varieties to maximize their productivity.

3.    Extension challenges. Farmers are eager to utilize new technologies, but are wary of counterfeit seed and need to be appropriately trained in order to reap the benefits of improved inputs. This requires investment from both private and public sectors. Current public sector efforts are limited, but have been useful in getting new products to farmers, and should be scaled up. Internships for graduate agriculture students with seed companies may be one effective way to bridge the gap between academia and the private sector, and may help leverage investments in currently untapped markets. Currently, NGOs are filling the extension role with little or no regulation, and as a result the quality of services and information varies widely.