(Supported by a Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities)
Kenya Tanzania  Uganda Burundi  Rwanda

Tanzania -- Agriculture

Agriculture continues to be the backbone of the Tanzanian economy. More than 80% of the economically active population is engaged in food production. Agriculture constitutes the country's principal source of income, providing about 50% of its GDP and more than 90% of its export earnings. Since independence, the Tanzanian government has sought to encourage fundamental changes in the traditional structure of rural production through a series of economic and social policies. Traditionally, Tanzanian agriculture was carried out through small-scale cultivation by dispersed family units. This pattern not only characterized subsistence farming but the cash crop sector as well. After the Arusha Declaration, the government initiated its Ujamaa Village Program, which sought to transform agricultural production into communal undertakings carried out by rural inhabitants who had been regrouped into villages.

Yet these reforms met severe obstacles by the second and third decades after independence. The dislocation of agricultural workers led to inefficiencies in production. Economic fluctuations led to lowered prices for exported agricultural products. The country's per capita agricultural output fell behind its population growth. Other problems, including pest infestation, lack of foreign investment in agriculture, and inadequate rainfall forced Tanzania to import large quantities of cereals in 1983-85 to feed its people. Lack of suitable storage facilities resulted in the destruction of up to 40% of harvested crops. Unfavorable weather, flood, and pests also contributed to the deterioration of the agricultural sector [1].

Subsistence crops include maize, which is grown by more than 50% of Tanzania's farmers.

Rice, the second most important staple food, is grown mainly by small-scale farmers for domestic consumption. Wheat is the third major food crop; it is handled mostly by the National Food Corporation (NAFCO) rather than by small-scale farmers. Other food crops include sorghum, millet, pulses, cassava, potatoes, bananas, plantains, sugar, groundnuts, sesame, coconuts, and soy beans.

The major crops for export or industrial use include coffee, cotton, tea, tobacco, cashew nuts, and sisal. Coffee is the country's major export. Its production provides income for more than two million people. Tea and sisal are grown mainly on large estates. Tea production rose from 18,000 tons in 1990 to 19,794 tons in 1991; in 1993, a 20-year plan was initiated to expand tea production. Sisal is one of the primary foreign exchange earners. In 1976, its production declined due to competition from synthetic fibers and the government nationalization of Sisal industries.

Production started picking up in the 1990s and remained higher than originally estimated, with levels of 36,000 tons in 1991, and 28,000 tons in 1992. Cotton is mainly grown on small farms, primarily in Tanga, Muranza, Kogoma, Kagera, Singida , coastal areas, Arusha and Kilimanjaro regions. Tobacco is the third most important export; its production has grown significantly in recent years (1990s). Cashew nuts are grown along the coastal belt from Mtwara to Tanga, almost entirely on small farms. Total production fell from 147, 000 tons in 1973-74 to 16,500 tons in 1986-87. A project to increase cashew harvests was financed by an IDA[2] credit of $25 million in mid-1989. By 1991, ten of the 13 Cashew factories had closed, and the remaining three were working at half capacity. But in 1994-95, Cashew nut production rebounded to yield 63,000 tons. Cloves are mainly produced in Zanzibar, which at one time supplied more than 60% of world demand.

[1] Kaplan, Irving, ed. 1978. Tanzania, A Country Study, Foreign Area Studies, American University: Washington D.C.

Previous Menu Home Page What's New Search Disclaimer