“There is no such thing as an apolitical food problem.” Amartya Sen
In light of the drought and famine in the Horn of Africa and within 48 districts in 16 of Tanzania‘s regions, the Tanzanian government has effectively banned the export of food crops for six months as of July 1, 2011. This move comes in the context of the increased smuggling of foodstuffs to neighboring countries facing famine which poses a possible threat to Tanzania’s food security. The neighboring countries include Burundi, Somalia, Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, Madagascar, Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Coupled with the global increase in food prices (the price of corn rose 130% between January and June 2011), the decline in food production in East Africa raises some serious questions about the region’s food security.
Tanzania is an East African nation whose economy is largely comprised of the agricultural and mining sectors. Of forty-eight districts within Tanzania’s 16 regions, seven had food surpluses, eight had sufficient food and sixteen had food deficits. In the 2010/2011 season, cereal production (supply) was 413,740 tons short of demand. Cereals are a staple of Tanzanian diets so this shortage is of immediate significance. In the last month, the government has allotted 115,000 tons of relief food to areas facing food shortages.
In addition, land deals with Agricol Energy and the Pharos Global Agriculture Land Fund are diverting land away from food production to biofuel production- specifically genetically-modified corn for ethanol. According to the Oakland Institute, the Agrisol and Pharos plan to reform local agriculture enterprises into partnerships between crop, livestock and agrofuel production conglomerates [Monsanto, Jon Deere, Syngenta, Hawkeye Energy, etc] is likely to have negative social and environmental effects. While it may improve the technologies, output, and profits, the environmental and social effects will not be negligeable. One promised benefit, according to Agrisol, is increased productivity via the streamlining of processes and increased concentration of farmholdings within Tanzania’s agricultural industry. Reducing the number of small farmers in Tanzania’s agricultural sector, however, makes it more difficult for farmers to compete against these large multinationals, undermining their role as independent entrepreneurs and undercutting their income. The displacement and forced resettlement of small farmers poses social costs and possibly undermines local food security. Moreover, the coerced removal of 162,000 Burundian refugees in Katumba and Mishamo- most of whom have been living on and farming the land since 1972- is costly, even if these refugees are promised Tanzanian citizenship in return for their cooperation.
In addition to the threats to food security, Tanzania has to deal with the related problem of water conservation. The issue is not mere scarcity, but a greater need to proactively conserve water. Tanzania is bordered by three lakes – Lake Victoria (the world‘s second largest freshwater lake), Lake Tanganyika and Lake Nyasa. Although about 7 percent of the land is covered by bodies of water, up to one third of the country is classified as arid or semi-arid, receiving less than 800mm of rain annually. In rural areas, climate change and environmental degradation exacerbate the already-alarming problem of water scarcity. Decreases in the water levels of the dams that produce the nation’s hydroelectric power have undermined the progress that has been made in expanding Tanzania’s electricity infrastructure. In fact, Tanzania’s state-run power company has just announced indefinite power outages, partially due to low water levels in the hydropower dams.
Having said this, the Tanzanian government‘s decision to revoke permits for transportation of food crops and ban exports of foodstuffs is undoubtedly salient. If executed well, this order will discourage informal cross-border trade in favor of international arrangements between Tanzania and nations facing famine. This will afford the government greater control over the food supply while it assesses the nation’s food security. However, informal (black market) cross-border trade is not the only threat to Tanzania’s food security. East Africa’s increasing frequency of drought and famine can only be exacerbated by unsustainable water use and land deals with multinational corporations that displace small farmers and Burundian refugees.