The development of sustainable and resilient food systems is vital to achieving sustainable development and poverty reduction for the millions of poor households in developing countries like Tanzania and the youth population has a critical role to play. This argument was put forth in July Policy Forum’s breakfast debate entitled “Food Security in Tanzania: Investing in Youth for Sustainable and Resilient Food Systems”.
Werner Hillary from the Tanzania Youth Coalition (TYC), an organisation that focuses on youth empowerment, argued at the event that Tanzania’s food systems are far more vulnerable without the active participation of young people. The youth population is the most active and energetic age group and, more importantly, it consumes more than any other age group. This group, she asserted, accounts for the majority of Tanzania’s workforce and population, and they are today’s change-makers. She further reiterated that it has a critical role in the transformation of our food systems. “There is an urgent need to promote youth inclusion in food production, processing and distribution, and reduce the nutrition inequity gap so that everyone can access healthy and nutritious food easily. The food systems offer a vast number of opportunities especially now in the era of globalization and technological advancements,” she said.
Another point raised by Hillary was that of the state of food security in Tanzania. She said that although Tanzania currently produces enough food to feed its population, the poorest and most marginalized families have limited access to it. Rates of poverty and chronic malnutrition in the country are very high. One in ten Tanzanians live below the food poverty line, one in three children is chronically malnourished and about 34% of children under 5 in Tanzania are stunted. The prevalence of stunting is relatively high in the region with high agricultural productivity, the Southern Highlands (44.7%) and Southwest Highlands (43.1%). The regions with a high prevalence of stunting are Rukwa (56.3%), Njombe (49.4%), Ruvuma (44.4%) and Geita (40.5%) (URT 2017). Diets are generally lacking diversity, and nutritious diets remain unaffordable for most households. The growth of the agricultural sector which is the predominant food producer is stagnant and food security is yet to be achieved.
A country brief published in 2021 shows that 74% of rural Tanzanians are engaged in agriculture yet agriculture only contributes 28% of the national GDP. Although about 44 million hectares (46% of total land) are suitable for agriculture, only a small part of this arable land can be utilized for agricultural production due to a combination of factors including infertile soils, erosion, land degradation and drought. Furthermore, about 28% of the land is under protection as forest reserves and wildlife.
Werner reiterated that overdependence on rain-fed agriculture, poor farming techniques, inadequate technology, poor infrastructure, and financial constraints exacerbate the vulnerability of Tanzania’s food systems to shocks and stresses including climate change and variability, economic fluctuation, demographic changes and global pandemics. These vulnerabilities need to be addressed and transformed into more sustainable and resilient food systems.
Food systems have always been changing and adapting to cultural, political, economic, and environmental changes and challenges all over the world. Amid these changes and multiple challenges including the Covid-19, global warming, ecosystem degradation, overpopulation, unemployment and conflicts that influence the performance of our food systems, the youth population has a critical role and can be a key engine to building resilience and achieving sustainability.
Humphrey Polepole (MP) who was the discussant mentioned that, people need to understand that agriculture is the largest sector in Tanzania that employs more than 74% of Tanzanians. Our small investment in agriculture will yield high and valuable results and this should go hand in hand with the availability of inputs especially farming equipment such as tractors, power tillers and ploughs. Statistics from 2011 to 2013 show that Tanzania had less than 3% of farmers in the country using tractors for agricultural activities. Polepole stressed the need to upgrade a government-initiated project under the National Development Corporation to lend tractors to farmers so that at least a third of farmers in the country have access to farming equipment and timely access to fertilizer. He stressed that efforts should be made to produce fertilizers in the country to reduce a burden cost. It is the responsibility of policymakers and decision-makers to advise the government to create a conducive environment to ensure adequate fertilizer production in the country.
Recommendations emanating from the discussion include the importance of increasing technical and financial support to the youth population who are the majority of Tanzania’s workforce and today’s change-makers so they can engage and grasp the opportunities in the food systems. There is also a call to strengthen technological innovation such as uses digital tools to improve food products and service delivery to ensure food security.
Stakeholders are also urged to conduct more studies on the food systems and youth challenges to develop more effective and practical measures toward food system transformation and youth inclusion. Collaboration and partnership between all the cross-cutting sectors and relevant stakeholders in the food systems including the agriculture sector, forest, land and water management sectors, industrial sector, financial sector, education and skills development are essential to ensure inexorable and reliable food systems in the country.
Photo courtesy of Reinout