Tanzania CountrySTAT: A major boost to Kilimo Kwanza


"Generally, statistics is a major problem in Tanzania," the Assistant Director for Irrigation in the Ministry of Water and Irrigation, Mr Gabriel Kalinga told me as we settled down in his office for an interview.


 This was the second time in a space of one week that Mr Kalinga had lamented over problems related to statistics.


 The first time Mr Kalinga complained over the issue was when I spoke to him over the phone in the course of seeking an appointment for interview with him over a variety of issues related to irrigation activities in Tanzania.


 My meeting with the youthful director was coming five days after I had attended a meeting related to statistics in Morogoro town, 200 kilometres west of Tanzania's commercial city of Dar es Salaam.


 The all-important working meeting was organized by the no-nonsense National Coordinator, CountrySTAT Tanzania, Mrs Joyce Urasa who is employed by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) as Principal Statistician.


 Although getting information on irrigation activities in Tanzania was on this particular day one of my top priorities.


 However, unlike my involvement in journalistic work in the past, this time around my main objective was to find out how correct were Mr Kalinga's statistical data on the ministry's irrigation activities.


 During the three days meeting held in Morogoro town (from June 9 to 11), data custodians from Ministries of agriculture, water and irrigation, forestry and their counterpart ministries in Zanzibar worked on data collected from district, regional level in the United Republic of Tanzania.


 In the course of the Morogoro meeting, I had had a close working relationship with a data custodian from the Ministry of Water and Irrigation, Mr Patroba Mafuru, an economist by profession.


 What was quite encouraging about my meeting with Mr Kalinga, five days later, was that all statistical data on irrigation in Tanzania was similar to the statistical data that Mafuru had had on his laptop in Morogoro as he jointly worked on the data with his colleagues from other ministries under the watchful eyes of Mrs Urasa.


 For instance, whereas Mr Mafuru had shown me the total number of hectares under irrigation in Tanzania stood at 331,490 until May this year, the same figure was produced by Mr Kalinga.


 Mr Kalinga says the number of hectares under irrigation is very low compared to the country's available land or potentiality.


 He divides Tanzania's irrigation potentiality into three parts, high, medium and low potentiality.


 According to the assistant director high potential has 2.3 million hectares, medium, 4.8 million hectares and low potential, 22.8 million hectares, hence bringing Tanzania's total irrigation potential to 29.4 million hectares.


 Mr Kalinga said they used three criteria in determining the three divisions of high, medium and low irrigation potential.


 He named the three criteria as agricultural land suitable for irrigation, water and what he describes as socio-economic issues prevailing in a given area.


 On socio-economic issues, Mr Kalinga says the people's preparedness/readiness for irrigation activity is very important.


 "An area may be of very high potential for an irrigation scheme. However, for the people living in such an area, irrigation scheme may not be a priority for them!" he says.


"What is more," he says "and because the government is not in business, as it is just there for the provision of technical support to the people, it cannot force such people to engage in irrigation," he says.


 Mr Kalinga further says that in other cases, the area potential for irrigation may in its bowels of the earth be endowed with minerals resources, hence making the people occupying the area more interested in minerals rather than irrigation activity.


 According to Mr Kalinga, if the best agricultural practices in paddy farming are employed, one hectare should be able to yield between 1.8 and six tones of rice, onions between 13 and 26 tones per hectare and tomatoes between five and 18 per hectare.


 The implication of this is if Tanzania was to make full use of its total irrigation potential of land that stands at 29.4 million hectares, it would get a total of 176.4 million tones of rice if it produced six tones per hectare.


 However, if it made use of the high potential area of irrigation land alone that presently stands at 2.3 million hectares, the country would get 11.5 million tones of rice at the same rate of five tones per hectare.


 He said the foregoing impressive rice production figures could easily make Tanzania one of the world's leading net rice exporters especially if you consider the fact that presently rice requirement in Tanzaia stands at one million tones!


 This means that Tanzania would be able to export 175.4 million tones of rice that would go towards boosting the country's foreign exchange.


 However, Mr Kalinga says the provision of their technical support in the irrigation sector is hampered by lack of money.  


 What was quite interesting during my interview with Mr Kalinga was that all the data he had provided me tallied with data contained in Mr Mafuru's laptop.


 What this means is that all the data worked on by Mr Mafuru and his colleagues in Morogoro town now constitute the sole and only source of data, nationally and internationally.


 The data, soon to be posted in the CountrySTAT Tanzania website, is certain to serve the objective with which it was established in the first place, namely that of providing a one-stop centre both for local and international consumers of the statistical data.


 This development is a new phenomenon in Tanzania that had in the past been bedeviled not only by the absence of correct and quality data, but also poorly processed and kept data.


 Every data custodian's work in the form in his or her docket was later jointly verified by the rest of the team, in terms of presentation, easy use etc, with Mrs Urassa being assisted in the task by an IT wizard, Mr Faraja Komba, Ms Beatrice Rwegoshora and Mr Oswald Ruboha.


 If you told somebody who is well-schooled in statistics and data processing in a developed country on one's excitement about what is taking place in Tanzania, as far as statistics are concerned, he or she is likely to raise eyebrows for the simple reason that statistics is not a problem in such countries.


 Indeed, statistics in such countries is not only their bread and butter, but they have advanced so far in the sector that today they are able even to tell you how many trees they have in their countries!


 But to appreciate the importance of this revolution for a country like Tanzania, it is important to go back in the proverbial time tunnel three decades previously when the Minister for Agriculture, Professor Machunda was forced to resign after giving President Julius Nyerere wrong data on how much tones of food the country had in its national silos.


 It all happened after the country had been severely hit by prolonged drought that threatened a number of regions, especially in northern part of the country, with famine.


 The minister was forced to take political responsibility after it was later discovered that the figures he had presented to the President was wrong.


 President Nyerere had required data on food deficit so that his government could import food and thereby avert an impending famine.


 Despite facing more than once famine problems, Tanzania appeared to have learnt nothing on the importance of collecting, processing and keeping correct statistics for their use.


 However, this problem which has time and again haunted Tanzania finally appears to slowly, but steadily becoming a thing of the past!


 This change of fortunes follows what happened in August 2008, when the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) developed, for Tanzania, at its headquarters in Rome, Italy, what has popularly come to be known as the CountrySTAT Tanzania.


 The CountrySTAT Tanzania is a web based system for food and agriculture statistics at the national and sub-national levels.


 The main objective behind the establishment of the web based system is to improve the accessibility, relevance and reliability of a country's national statistics on food and agriculture.


 It is hoped that the end result of the foregoing development will help in facilitating planning and decision making by policy makers and analysts.


 Tanzania is not alone in this development, aimed at, among other things, ensuring that countries become proud owners of quality statistics, throught their CountrySTATs.


 There are presently 16 other countries in the league in the sub-Sahara with Tanzania taking the 17th spot.


 Perhaps the beauty of the web based system is that in Tanzania it has come at a time when the country is busy on what has been dubbed country's green revolution.


 The revolution is set to be implemented through what has come to be known in the country's national language, Kiswahili as Kilimo Kwanza(Agriculture First).


 Before the introduction of the new agricultural policy by President Jakaya Kikwete's administration, Tanzania has had since independence two agricultural policies, Kilimo ni Uti wa Mgongo (Agriculture is the Backbone of the economy) and Siasa ni Kilimo (Politics is Agriculture).


 Unfortunately both agricultural policies came not only unstuck, but left the country poorer than ever before with the culprit lying squarely on the implementation process.


 However, the main difference between then and now is that the latest Kilimo Kwanza policy is backed up by the new web based system.


 Unlike their counterparts in the last three decades, present policy makers in the ministries of agriculture, water and irrigation are better placed to bring the Kilimo Kwanza policy to fruition through the availability of  correct data, afforded to them by the new web based system.


  It is hoped that the present policy makers would make good use of the statistics afforded them through CountrySTAT in charting out their food and agricultural strategies that should bail out Tanzania from continued threats of famine and poverty.