Tanzanian Food and Water Security Outlook

2 June 2011 FDI Team

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         Key Points      

  • The major constraint facing the agricultural sector is falling labour and land productivity. The reduced availability of arable land is mainly due to the effects of climate change, as well as the increasing size of the population.
  • Water security is a main concern, leading to great domestic, economic and political implications.
  • Promoting self reliance in developing countries like Tanzania can help improve their flexibility in changing circumstances, such as, in this case, climate changes.


Changes in climatic conditions continue to pose a threat to the availability of sufficient water and food in Tanzania. Over the coming years Tanzania will face a period of serious food and water shortages, if the challenges posed by climate change and the lack of sufficient technology for utilising its natural resources are not overcome. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in its  Climate Change Publications 2010, provides conclusive evidence from all continents and many oceans that increasing temperatures are affecting regional climates. In such a situation, relatively poor countries like Tanzania are highly vulnerable. This is due to their high dependence on climate-sensitive resources, such as local water and food supplies, as well as their limited skills in adapting to such changes.

As a developing country, Tanzania is dependent on agriculture as the main economic activity. Agricultural production in Tanzania is mainly done by peasants (smallholder farmers), who cultivate average farm sizes of between 0.9 and three hectares; these farms are equivalent to half a rugby international field and three fields respectively.  About 70 per cent of Tanzania’s aggregate crop area is cultivated by hand hoe, 20 per cent by ox-plough and 10 percent by tractor. Agriculture is also mainly dependent on rainfall for irrigation. Women constitute the main part of the agricultural labour force.

The agricultural sector is constrained by falling labour and land productivity, due to the application of poor technology and to its dependence on irregular and unreliable weather conditions. Both crops and animals are adversely affected by occasional droughts.

Currently, food crop production dominates the agricultural economy. An estimated 5.1 million hectares per year are cultivated annually, of which 85 per cent is for food crops; the rest is cash crops, such as cotton, coffee, tea, sugarcane and sisal. Sisal is a fibre and plant used especially for rope or mat making.

Alongside the effects of climate changes,Tanzania has witnessed a reduction in the availability of its arable land. This is partly due to the increasing rate of population growth, which necessitates clearing some of the land for settlement. This results in issues such as soil erosion, deforestation, drought and melting glaciers.

Soil Erosion

Although several reasons for soil erosion have been suggested, such as land clearing, poor farming practices and cultivation of erosive crops, the problem is also a result of structural reforms in the agricultural sector. A “structural adjustment program” has been implemented since the 1980s, as a condition for foreign assistance by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. The program has promoted maize and cotton production for export purposes, both of which are extremely erosive, but, relative to the area planted, they are major cash crops.


Currently, there is heavy reliance on charcoal and firewood as a source of fuel for cooking in towns and rural areas respectively. Three separate studies have estimated that charcoal consumption per household in Dar es Salaam (the national capital of Tanzania) is between 2.7 and 3.5 of the average-sized 56 kilogram bags per annum. This has led to an increasingly high rate of deforestation, due to the additional demand for fuel to provide for the growing population. Tanzania’s population, now more than 44 million people according to UN statistics, is growing by just over two per cent per annum. In 1950 the population was 7.6 million. In 15 years the population will surpass 100 million and by 2050 is forecast to reach 138 million. The government has introduced legislation that prohibits deforestation as the population pressures continue to rise. However, this has not been a sustainable solution, since it means denying peoples’ primary fuel needs.


The variable and inconsistent rainfall in the central parts of the country has led to drought conditions. As a result, the population of Tanzania’s central region, comprising Singida, Tabora and Dodoma, is exposed to a range of serious drought-related diseases and to malnutrition. The diseases include trachoma (a waterborne eye infection, mainly in areas which have insufficient clean water), dysentery, cholera and diarrhoea. It is predicted that by 2030, even if the drought frequency and intensity remain stable, 5 per cent of the region’s population will go hungry. In addition, 5 per cent of the population will suffer from trachoma and almost 200,000 children under five will be affected by diarrhoea. This would be accompanied by many serious cases of cholera and dysentery. More severe climate change would inevitably have a far greater negative impact.

Swiss Re, a leading global reinsurer, has produced a study of selected regions within developing countries, including Tanzania. The study suggests that the country has suffered six major droughts in the last 30 years. The study concluded that a portfolio of preventive and treatment measures could significantly reduce drought-related illness, while effective insurance could protect against crop failure.

Melting glaciers

The serious effects of climatic changes are slowly robbing the renowned Tanzanian Mountain, Kilimanjaro, of its beauty. The mountain’s glaciers and snow cover have been steadily retreating (55 per cent of glacier loss between 1962 and 2000). Debates over past and current climate change and ice cap coverage, however, persist. Over the 20th Century, the area covered by Kilimanjaro’s ice fields has decreased by 80 per cent. Some suggest that if current climatic conditions continue, the remaining ice fields will probably disappear between 2015 and 2020 (this will be the first time in 11,000 years).

Food security

Currently, food security conditions are at a satisfactory level. All markets across the country have been supplied with staple food commodities, following good harvests in the southern and south-western parts of the country. In the northern and north-eastern pastoral areas (Arusha, Kilimanjaro, Tanga, and Manyara regions), however, where harvests have been below normal, food security conditions will continue to worsen. According to the 27th session of the Greater Horn of Africa Climate Outlook Forum,held on 28 February 2011, and the Tanzania Meteorological Agency, the below-normal prospects for the March through May rainfall season will most likely lead to increased food insecurity in those areas in the future.

Water security

Evidence indicates that Tanzania has sufficient water resources, including surface and underground sources, to meet most of its present needs. Currently, the country has a total inland water area of about 56,751 square kilometres; unlike its neighbours Kenya, Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda, which have 11,230 square kilometres, 36,330 square kilometres, 27,834 square kilometres and 1,390 square kilometres respectively. Nevertheless, water security is of great concern and has domestic, economic and political implications. For example, the October 2010 general election campaign was dominated by policies to improve water services in the country. In this context, the supply and delivery of clean water has become a great burden on the government, which cannot handle the problems alone. As a result the participation of the private sector is of great importance. Also people in most rural remote areas still have to travel long distances to search for water, which is often unclean.

This is a surprising situation in a country with 6 per cent of its total area covered by water. Climate change also continues to affect the availability of water. A third of Tanzania receives less than 800 mm of rainfall, resulting in arid or semi-arid conditions, and only one-third of the rest of the country has precipitation above 1,000 mm. These changes portray just how unlikely it is that the water resources will be able to cater for such a rapidly growing population.

Tanzania: Most Likely Food Security Outcomes

              Source: Fewsnet, May 2011.

From the map above, it is clear that food insecurity is not much of a problem for most regions, except for the central parts of the country.

Water pollution and its impact on the water masses

In Tanzania’s major towns and cities, solid and liquid wastes are left untreated. As a result, air and water are contaminated with pollutants, a major health hazard for those who live in under-privileged areas. In Dar es Salaam, for example, few people are connected to a sewage system. The few sewage systems that exist disgorge their waste directly into the ocean, affecting marine habitats and the species that live there.

The loss and modification of marine ecosystems

Over the past decade, much of Tanzania’s marine ecosystem has been lost or modified. This loss is a result of activities such as smuggling, as well as over-harvesting of mangroves. The country’s marine ecosystem contains hundreds of kinds of organisms, including bacteria, phytoplankton, zooplankton, fish, mammals and birds, which are all connected through their interactions in a complex food chain. The Tanzanian newspaper,The Daily News, reported on 8 May 2011 that the situation is worsening and black market dealers and smugglers continue to operate. Furthermore, a 2001 causal chain analysis in Tanzania by the United States Agency for International Development, revealed that  the immediate causes of the degradation of mangrove forests were: the over-harvesting of mangroves for firewood (46%), charcoal-making, building poles and boat-making. Approximately 46 per cent of the mangroves have been lost through these practices, while a further 30 per cent has been cleared for aquaculture, agriculture, and solar salt water. Solar salt water is water that is used in the production of salt by natural evaporation of seawater in large, diked, earthen concentration ponds called condensers.


Although the Tanzanian government has established and promoted programmes to combat these environmental challenges, not much seems to have been accomplished, as environmental degradation continues. Moreover, there has been much international attention on Tanzania. This has come in the form of technology provided by countries such as: Canada, for the generation of electricity using natural gas; construction equipment from China; mining machinery from Australia; and equipment for the railway sector from India. It is clear that most of the technology imported so far has not been based on the idea of promoting self reliance. Self reliance is highly important to developing countries such as Tanzania, so that they can develop flexible processes to deal with food and water security.

Tanzania is one of many third world countries that are tirelessly trying to cope with pressures imposed by both the environment and technology. Hopefully, raising awareness of the persistence of these issues could mark the beginning of the development of many new strategies to overcome such challenges.

Aida Mliga*

Future Directions International Research Intern

Global Food and Water Crises Research Programme


*About the author: Ms Mliga is an international student that comes from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. She is currently in her second year of a Bachelor of Commerce (Economics and Finance) degree at Notre Dame University, Fremantle Western Australia.


Any opinions or views expressed in this paper are those of the individual author, unless stated to be those of Future Directions International.

E-mail comments on this article to Gary Kleyn, [email protected]



Any opinions or views expressed in this paper are those of the individual author, unless stated to be those of Future Directions International.

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