From Tradition to Innovation: Tanzania’s Leap into Climate-Smart Agriculture

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Tanzania’s agriculture sector is an essential catalyst for economic growth, poverty alleviation, and food security. According to the Bank of Tanzania data, in 2021, Agriculture (agriculture, forestry, and fishing) accounted for 27% of the country’s GDP. Nevertheless, the economic losses from climate change impacts on agriculture are estimated at US$200 million annually. The scaling up of climate-smart agriculture (CSA) practices presents an opportunity to reduce such losses, build resilience in the agriculture sector, improve productivity and farmer incomes, and contribute to climate change mitigation.

Climate change presents a formidable challenge to agriculture in Tanzania. The effects are already apparent, with shifting rainfall patterns, increased drought, and unpredictable weather conditions affecting the sector, which primarily employs about 65% of Tanzania’s working population (World Bank, 2022). Consequently, the need to adopt climate-smart agriculture (CSA) – practices that sustainably increase productivity, resilience (adaptation), reduce/remove greenhouse gasses (mitigation), and enhance the achievement of national food security and development goals is paramount. This article presents an impartial analysis of the potential and challenges of embracing CSA in Tanzania, highlighting diverse viewpoints on the matter.

Climate-smart Agriculture Concept

The concept of climate-smart agriculture (CSA) reflects an ambition to integrate agricultural development and climate responsiveness further. CSA aims to achieve food security and broader development goals under a changing climate and increasing food demand. CSA initiatives sustainably increase productivity, enhance resilience, and minimize greenhouse gas (GHGs) emissions. Improved planning is vital to address tradeoffs and synergies between the three pillars: productivity, adaptation, and mitigation.

CSA is agriculture that sustainably increases productivity and income, can adopt and build community resilience to climate change, and enhances food and nutrition security while achieving mitigation co-benefit in line with national economic development priorities. At the same time, the concept is new and still evolving; many practices and technologies that make up CSA exist worldwide and are currently used by farmers to cope with various production risks. Tanzania is divided into 64 agroecological zones (AEZs) based on rainfall patterns, altitude, soil water holding capacity, growing seasons, and physiographic features.

Key farming systems include plantations for tea, coffee, and sisal and maize/legume systems in Shinyanga, Rukwa, Morogoro, Arusha, Kigoma, Kagera Iringa, and Mbeya. Agricultural production is dominated by small-scale, subsistence farmers, with average farm sizes ranging between 0.2 and 2 ha. Only 1.5% of the arable land is under irrigation. Agricultural input utilization is relatively low compared to regional averages. The main food crops cultivated in Tanzania are maize, rice, cassava, banana, and potatoes, whereas significant cash crops include coffee, tea, pyrethrum, tobacco, cashew, and sisal.

Maize is grown throughout the country, despite unsuitable soils and climate in some areas. The country has one of the largest livestock populations in Eastern Africa, though the contribution of the livestock sector to agricultural GDP is relatively low, estimated at 7.4% in 2015. Indigenous breeds of cattle, sheep, goats, poultry, and pigs are Tanzania’s most common livestock types. Livestock production is mostly extensive, practiced by pastoralists and agro-pastoralists on natural pastures. Intensive and semi-intensive systems are standard for improved crossed or pure livestock breeds.

Pastoralism predominates in arid and semi-arid areas like Central Dodoma, Singida, Shinyanga, Simiyu, and the northeastern parts of the county, such as Manyara, regions of Arusha, and Northern Iringa. The adverse effects of climate change in Tanzania have already been documented in several government reports. The observed impacts include increased rainfall variability, reduced water volumes in water bodies such as rivers and lakes, increased pest and disease incidence due to increased temperatures, saltwater intrusion (common in the coastal areas and Zanzibar), geographical shifts of AEZs and ecosystems, and replacement of perennial crops with annual crops owing to reduced crop cycles. Given their reduced adaptive capacity, small-scale farmers are more likely to suffer adverse effects.

CSA technologies and practices present opportunities for addressing climate change challenges and economic growth and development of the agriculture sector. For this profile, practices are considered CSA if they enhance food security and contribute to at least one of the other objectives of CSA (adaptation and mitigation). Hundreds of technologies and approaches worldwide fall under the heading of CSA.

Support through government programs, international organizations, NGOs, and traditional knowledge has enabled the implementation of various CSA practices throughout the country. For crop production systems, these practices include agroforestry, improved seed varieties (drought resistant and early maturing), cover cropping crop rotation, use of manure, mulching, and intercropping, does not require high initial cost and present an opportunity for widespread adoption. On the other hand, water harvesting and minimum tillage are knowledge-intensive and require increased initial capital investment.

The Potential of Climate-Smart Agriculture

The adoption of CSA in Tanzania offers numerous benefits. According to a study by the International Food Policy Research Institute (2021), CSA can potentially increase agricultural productivity by up to 30%. These practices, which include crop rotation, agroforestry, and conservation agriculture, can improve soil health and water retention and ultimately increase crop yield. Moreover, CSA practices contribute significantly to climate change mitigation. For instance, agroforestry, which integrates trees into farm landscapes, can help sequester carbon and lower greenhouse gas emissions. Similarly, conservation agriculture, which involves minimal soil disturbance, permanent soil cover, and crop rotations, can enhance soil carbon sequestration.

Differing Perspectives

While adopting CSA in Tanzania carries evident potential, viewpoints on its implementation and challenges differ. Some experts argue that CSA’s introduction should be more aggressive and extensive, supported by substantial government and international investments. They believe scaling up CSA practices could significantly improve productivity and farmers’ livelihood while mitigating climate change effects.

On the contrary, others argue that while CSA is promising, its effectiveness may vary significantly depending on the specific geographical and socio-economic contexts. They contend that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach might not work and that farmers’ knowledge, attitudes, and socio-economic situations should be considered during implementation.

Another perspective pertains to policy and institutional support for CSA. Critics argue that inadequate policies and institutional frameworks to support CSA’s rollout are a significant barrier. Adopting may be slow and uneven without a supportive policy environment.

Analysis and Opinion

While all these perspectives hold value, the adoption of CSA in Tanzania, in my opinion, should strike a balance. The potential benefits of CSA are undeniable; however, a blanket approach may not be feasible or effective given the diverse agroecological zones and varying farmers’ circumstances in Tanzania. Therefore, context-specific strategies, developed in consultation with local communities and based on thorough research, may offer the best way forward.

Policymakers need to create an enabling environment for CSA adoption. This could include providing farmers access to climate information, training in CSA practices, and promoting access to credit for necessary investments. Policymakers should also engage in dialogues with farmers to understand their concerns and ensure that policy measures address their needs adequately. Moreover, the role of research and development in advancing CSA cannot be understated. Research institutions should collaborate closely with farmers to identify and refine the best practices for Tanzania’s regions and farming systems.

Tanzania has done good work laying the foundation for attracting large-scale finance for climate-smart agriculture in the country by developing the National CSA Programme and National CSA Guideline. However, more finance needs to be directed toward addressing CSA adoption barriers. Promoting farmer’s groups and cooperatives, complemented by capacity building on financial and business management, could enhance smallholders’ access to credit, particularly from micro-finance institutions.

This could add to the existing domestic funding sources, such as the TADB, which mainly finances large-scale agricultural investments in the country. Stronger public-private partnerships, from policy formulation to activity implementation to ensure ownership and sustainability, can also increase the availability of CSA funds. Engagement of such actors in new areas, such as renewable energy services, input supply, and post-harvest activities (processing/value-addition and commercialization), can complement existing efforts focused on the production stage, thereby contributing to a more comprehensive agricultural sector growth strategy. Additional sources for international climate financing need to be explored.

For instance, Tanzania has yet to access funds from the Africa Climate Change Fund (ACCF) and the Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Programme (ASAP), which the country is eligible for. Most importantly, domestic budget allocation towards CSA will be a crucial catalyzing instrument for the country’s agriculture and climate change-related financing. Some countries in Eastern Africa are setting up national climate change funds (FONERWA in Rwanda), which aim to merge finances from various sources for enhanced coordination and targeting purposes. Such initiatives can serve as a model for Tanzania’s potential national climate change financing mechanism.

Generally, embracing CSA in Tanzania is not just a matter of choice but a necessity to mitigate the impacts of climate change on agriculture, ensure food security, and promote sustainable development. While the task is challenging, a context-specific approach, a supportive policy environment, and robust research and development can foster the effective implementation of CSA practices. With this comprehensive approach, Tanzania can turn the tide on climate change, ensuring a resilient and productive agricultural sector that supports the nation’s development.

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