Dar es Salaam. What ails the agriculture sector in Tanzania and what are the best interventions to reverse its meagre contribution to the Gross Domestic Product(GDP)?

This was the key question thrown on the floor during the Mwananchi Thought Leadership Forum (MTLF) Thursday night, where agriculture experts, financiers and other stakeholders were given a platform to sell their views and give practical solution to problems that impeded the sector.

Unpredictability of policies, multi-regulatory bodies, unfriendly taxation system, poor lending to farmers and poor storage facilities were major factors that were repeatedly blamed for stagnating the agriculture sector in Tanzania.

MTLF, which is conducted for the fourth time, is MCL’s initiative to stimulate national discourse on issues affecting Tanzanians by encouraging dialogue, shaping opinions and policy directions.

The forum conduct debates and find practical solutions to key issues that are critical to the development and growth of Tanzania. The theme of Thursday’s gathering organised by MCL in collaboration with ITV/Radio One, was “Agriculture, our lifeline”.

The agriculture sector, whose growth rate in the first quarter of 2019 stood at 7.1 per cent. contributes 28.8 per cent to the GDP as recorded in the past two years.

Officiating the forum, Agriculture minister Japhet Hasunga challenged stakeholders to ‘scratch their heads’ on what exactly impeded the sector, of which 65.5 per cent of Tanzanians directly depended on for their survival.

“It is high time all agriculture stakeholders brainstorm and come up with the answer on why the sector was not sufficiently productive despite several government interventions to spar its performance,” suggested Mr Hasunga.

Citing some catchphrases like Siasa ni Kilimo, Kiswahili for Politics and Agriculture, Kilimo Kwanza (Agriculture First) and Mpango Kabambe (Ambitious Programme) which came with several national declarations to revamp agriculture and fuel its growth, the minister said time has come to change things around.

“We need to ask ourselves what factors are actually impeding the performance of the sector. Is it lack of opportunities? Or lack of reliable markets? Or is it unfriendly laws and regulations?” he asked.

In a swift rejoinder, stakeholders called for consistence of policies and change of some laws, regulations, taxation system and strategies if Tanzania is to take the sector to the next level.

Executive director of the Agriculture Non-State Actors Forum (Ansaf), Mr Audax Rukonge, said inconsistent policies adversely impacted investment in agriculture.

He cited examples of irrigation projects, saying there was a need of urgent change of policies to save the money that already been injected in irrigation projects.

“Investors need to be confident about investment and assured of returns of each cent they invest in agriculture sector,” he said.

He said Tanzania needed to harmonise regulatory bodies which performed similar or related activities, saying it was shocking, for example, to note that a person who wished to invest in dairy industry has to be registered by 26 institutions.

Chief executive officer of the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (Sagcot), Geoffrey Kirenge and Mr Rukonge seemed to read from the same script.

Mr Kirenge said Tanzania could enjoy abundant potential in agriculture if policies and laws were consistent.

“It is estimated that 60 per cent of virgin land is available in Africa, with Tanzania, Mozambique and Zambia alone accounting for 50 per cent of it,” he noted.

Food and Agricultural Organisation (Fao) representative to Tanzania, Fred Kafeero, said political will was of paramount importance for Tanzania to bolster productivity in the agricultural sector.

“The government needs to put an eye on areas that will contribute to the realisation of the sector’s potential. This can only be if it takes into consideration raising the sector’s budget, which is currently inadequate,” suggested Mr Kafeero.

He challenged the government to create an environment that would convince both local and foreign investors consider Tanzania as the best destination for investments.

Agricultural Council of Tanzania (ACT) executive director Timoth Mmbaga said it was high time massive investments were made on storage facilities.

He said despite plentiful potentials in horticulture, the business has not benefited many because of unfavourable infrastructure.

“We don’t have enough cold-storage facilities for horticultural products,” he said, calling on private sector to take an advantage of it to invest in the area.

Sokoine University of Tanzania (Sua) economist, researcher and advisor, Dr Anna Temu, called for assured markets, massive investments in technology and access to improved seeds and fertilizers.

To attract more investors in the sector, the director of policy and planning in the ministry of Agriculture, Mr Obey Assery, said the government has so far scrapped 105 charges on agricultural products.