Dodoma and Singida regions are bracing for food shortages due to a severe drought that afflicted the central part of the country, damaging food crops and resulting into tumbling yields and soaring cereal prices.
Regional authorities, however, have allayed fears, saying people will not starve if they heeded the directive to grow drought-resistant crops. In a two-week survey which covered districts and villages in the two regions, the ‘Sunday News’ observed an upward trend of food prices, with a worsening situation in the villages, as maize had either withered or was badly damaged shortly before pollination.
Retail prices for maize flour, beans and legumes, which are the people’s favourite staples, soared significantly, almost becoming pan-territorial. At the rural areas of Chamwino, Bahi, Hombolo, Manyoni, Singida urban and rural, and even Dodoma Municipality, a kilogramme of maize flour sells at 1,400/-. Rice retails sell at an average of 2,000/- per kilogramme, depending on the type, but shoots up to 2,400/- in most rural areas.
Beans and legume prices range between 1,700/- and 2,000/- per kilo, a situation that has created fears of looming starvation unless the government intervenes in time. But while there is cause for concern among farmers, district and regional authorities have blamed the peasants for not heeding a longstanding directive to grow sorghum and finger millet as an alternative to maize. The grains thrive well even in times of drought.
But the farmers have shrugged-off the remarks, saying they should not be forced to eat ‘unpalatable foods,’ and urged the government to understand that drought had caused irreparable damages on their farms and all their efforts to grow maize, beans and even groundnuts had been rendered useless.
“Our families are starving at a time when maize on the farms is withering from drought. We should not be blamed. We need help,’’ said Hussein Suleiman Singu, a farmer whose threeacre maize farm has been reduced to a mere fodder.
Samwel Lubano (56), of Chamwino had one acre of groundnuts and two more for maize but all have succumbed to drought. “Except for livestock keepers, this is a difficult season for everyone in our area. The small dams and ditches have water for the animals but there is none for farmers,’’ Lubano told the ‘Sunday News.’
A bodaboda rider (commercial motorcyclist) Musa Kizinga who shuttles downtown Hombolo said the youth had lost hope in agricultural production as a lot of energy was simply wasted and commended livestock keepers for shunning farming. He said due to recurrent drought, agriculture was no longer potential as there was little or no profit to make.
“The youth don’t rely on agriculture. It has never solved the problem of hunger in our region,’’ said Musa, adding sometimes initiatives to boost farming have been frustrated by youths most of whom go for fast ‘money spinner’ businesses like boda boda. “School leavers have their own expectations. They see agriculture as a lot more disappointing than any business.
Some have chosen livestock as the only option,’’ he said. However, Edith Andrea Luhwamo of Hombolo criticized her fellow farmers’ choice of food crops and admitted that hunger was a result of their failure to heed government directives and guidance from extension officers. “We are learning it the hard way. This drought is a warning to the farmers.
We shouldn’t have grown maize,’’ she said. Reacting, Dodoma Regional Administrative Secretary (RAS), Ms Rehema Madenge was optimistic that the farmers were in no danger of starvation, saying even farmers whose maize was damaged by drought would not suffer as they had other crops and sources of livelihoods like livestock and business.
“Anyone growing maize knows the risks associated with such farming,’’ said the RAS, adding: “You can only say that there will be hunger for a farmer who solely depends on a maize farm”. On the amount of cereals which might be needed for distribution to those facing imminent hunger, the RAS said that will depend on the assessment made by the Prime Minister’s Officer.
In Singida, the Acting RAS Mr Boniface Temba told the ‘Sunday News’ that the drought-prone region could be self-sufficient in food production if farmers adhered to the directives given by authorities on suitable agricultural practices which include growing drought resistant crops.
By MARYCELINA MASHA, Tanzania Daily News