By Joyce Chimbi

Africa is facing a deepening food crisis in the backdrop of unhealthy and unsustainable agricultural practices. Estimates paint a concerning picture of 868 million people experiencing moderate to severe food insecurity across the African continent, with over one-third of them facing the latter.

Overall, nearly 20 percent of the population in Africa is undernourished, with 57 million more people facing hunger since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Against this backdrop, a growing number of African countries are turning to agroecology as the silver bullet to food and nutrition security.

The challenges of food insecurity, climate change, biodiversity loss, land degradation and an escalating water crisis require real transformational change. The government of Tanzania has recognized the need for this transformational change by developing the National Ecological Organic Agriculture Strategy.

“Tanzania is currently in the process of transforming the agriculture sector. In doing so, agroecology is also one of the preferable areas which will be considered in transforming the agriculture sector, but also in ensuring that in whatever we do, we are enhancing sustainability, because we all know that tomorrow is equally important,” said Gerald G. Mweli, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture in Tanzania as he officially opened the Cultivating for Change Gathering in Arusha June 4, 2024.

Gerald G. Mweli, Permanent Secretary Ministry of Agriculture in Tanzania speaking about the National Ecological Organic Agriculture
Photo credits: Joyce Chimbi

The gathering brought together global philanthropic donor organisations over a period of four days. The aim is to efficiently and effectively align and coordinate their efforts with farmers networks, governments and Civil Society organisations to scale sustainable agriculture.

Equally important, they seek to ensure that agricultural systems and transitions benefit those that matter the most and more so, smallholder farmers and rural populations on the frontlines of the ongoing climate onslaught, biodiversity loss and land degradation.

As over 120 partners from around the world working in government, civil society, research and philanthropy come together in Arusha to discuss collaborative approaches towards a rapid transition to agroecology and regenerative approaches, the issue of national agroecology or ecology organic agriculture strategies took centerstage.

According to John Garcia Ulloa from the Biovision Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation involved in ecological and sustainable development projects for people living in Africa “a national agroecology strategy is an overarching framework that strengthens a country’s food system policies and puts agroecology on the policy agenda. The framework outlines specific policy interventions that accelerate food system transformation through agroecology. They drive improvements in food security, climate resilience, biodiversity, water suage, soil protection and farm incomes.”

Mweli says in transforming Tanzania’s agricultural sector, their aim is to provide a stable food system that addresses food security and income in their communities. This is critical due to correlations between agriculture and prosperity, and between agriculture and poverty.

“In our community, where 70 percent of people or of our population are in their daily life practicing agriculture, it means that if you want to revert the trend of poverty, you need to invest in agriculture. But also, it is what you must do to reverse the trend. You need to take into consideration that to have sustainability in whatever you are doing, agroecology should take the upper hand,” he observed.

He further spoke of the threats posed by climate change impacts, environmental degradation such as loss of biodiversity and soil fertility, mismanagement of agrochemicals and degrading of water sources. In late 2023, UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation estimated that the costs current industrial food systems cause globally to economies, environments, and lives surpasses over $12 trillion (31.238 trillion Tanzanian shillings or 1.57 trillion Kenyan shillings) per year.

“The scientific community informs us that ecological organic agriculture can be among the vehicles toward achieving national and international goals on achieving food security, employment and poverty reduction. In this case, a multi-tool combining the best of indigenous and local knowledge, practices and crop varieties need to be promoted,” he expounded.

Against this backdrop, Tanzania is setting the pace for unprecedented momentum for agroecological national action for other countries in the region. Bringing to the table great learning opportunities on how governments can repurpose available financial and technical resources for greater impact.

Across this East African nation, there is a wider recognition that farming in harmony with nature is a critical pillar of food and nutrition security.

Organic farmers in Arusha showcasing their farm produce. Tanzania is making great strides in green growth towards food and nutrition security. Photo Joyce Chimbi

“I am the chair for the Tanzania Organic Agriculture Movement (TOAM). It is a self-developed movement whereby we have member organisations of different interventions in the value chain. We have producers, exporters, certifiers, farmer groups, all those who are like-minded,” says Mwatima Juma.

Stressing that “since 1996, we have seen a gradual involvement within this context. We started as an Organic Movement, and we have a nice word for us which we would really like people to keep on using, it is Kilimo hai, and if you say Kilimo hai, everybody understands what you mean. It is the living agriculture – it is life, it is livelihood and it is incorporating a lot of aspects into it.”

Juma said TOAM is an umbrella organisation and that it has been experiencing changes such a dramatic growth of the members. There are those “who are supporting school initiatives, others are supporting groups of farmers and also those who are supporting out growers. We have seen many tested results on the ground. Our biggest, greatest success is in receiving government support in the development of the strategy.”

Further emphasising that ‘these are the kind of policy or strategic guidance that really need all the blessings from the government. As a civil society organisation, we believe that with such a tool, we will be able to hold the government somewhere and say ‘we signed this document together so let us see how we can get it out together’.”

According to the Permanent Secretary, Tanzania has set an ambitious Agricultural Transformation Masterplan, spanning over 26 years from 2024 to 2050. In their Transformation Masterplan, the aim is to ensure farmers’ autonomy in production through increased area under irrigation to at least 8 million as well as increased domestic seed production.

“We want seed production to increase from the current 13 percent to 56.5 percent and improve soil health by ensuring about 2 million hectares are served with agroecological practices and climate smart agriculture. But another mission in our Masterplan, and it is an ambitious target, is to increase farmers’ access to agricultural extension services,” he explained.

In the short-term, Tanzania seeks to leverage digital solutions to increase agricultural extension officers to 16,000 by 2030. An estimated 3 million farmers are already active users of mKilimo – an agricultural extension services digital platform.

“But also, at the end of the day, we aim to ensure that Tanzania is safe through agroecological approaches and, that our neighbours are also safe from hunger. We want to increase our export to $5 billion by 2030 from the current $2.3 billion,” Mweli emphasised.