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Tanzania: East African trade scheme aims to stop the rot (Trust)

Jumanne Masele put aside a huge stock of maize last year. He had harvested a bumper crop on his farm in Mbumi village in the east Tanzania district of Kilosa, and had enough maize to feed his family and repay some debts. Or so he thought.

Soon after storing the grain in a traditional storage cocoon, Mr. Masele realized it was infested with a fungus. Moisture from the ground had seeped through the bottom of his storage area.

He says, “There was nothing I could do to salvage my grains. It was a total loss.”

Mr. Masele lost most of his crops, threatening his family’s food supply.

He adds, “I still don’t know how to store my harvest. Traditional techniques are no longer effective, as the grain easily rots when we get unexpected extra rains.”

Many farmers struggle to store their harvest long enough to feed them until the next harvest, or long enough to transport to market. The Tanzanian government estimates that 40% of grains are lost to poor storage and extreme weather.

But efforts are underway to curb these losses. Since 2013, a US-based company called Development Alternatives, Inc. has been supporting small-scale farmers in nine African countries to trade staple foods across borders.

In addition, a program called FoodTrade East and Southern Africa will help farmers in Tanzania and Uganda to access regional markets.

These projects will enable farmers in Tanzania and Uganda—who generally produce a surplus of staple foods—to earn a good income. Meanwhile, countries such as Kenya, which often face food shortages, will have access to staple foods.

The East African Community Customs Union changed its grain trade policies in 2012 to help facilitate this kind of regional trade. Previously, it had been cheaper for Kenya to import staple foods from outside Africa.

Local experts hope these efforts will curb post-harvest losses while increasing the amount of grain for sale outside the peak harvest period.

Edith Kija is an agricultural consultant and extension officer. She says, “[It] will help poor farmers who don’t have the resources to invest in better storage facilities for their crops.”

Lucy Mtemvu is Mr. Masele’s neighbour in Mbumi. She stores maize, rice, and beans after harvest when the price is low, and waits for prices to rise. But last year she lost most of her stored crops, and the year before, rodents invaded her stores.

Mrs. Mtemvu says farmers in her area have a difficult time getting their product to market. Millers who previously bought their grain now rarely visit their farms because of poor roads that were destroyed by rains.

A 90-kilogram bag of rice once fetched 140,000 Tanzanian shillings [$64 US]. But now, Mrs. Mtemvu says, “You can hardly get 90,000 shillings [$42 US], if you are lucky enough to sell.”

Like other farmers in the area, she hopes to benefit from some of the trade projects underway in East Africa.

To read the full article on which this story is based, East Africa food scheme aims to stop the rot, boost trade, go to: http://news.trust.org/item/20160602120305-kkkxu/?source=hpDontmiss [1]