Tanzania’s president is waging a war on hunger — and while he’s at it, he wants to modernize his East African nation’s agricultural sector to lift millions of his countrymen out of poverty.
But Jakaya Kikwete’s biggest constraint is a lack of resources.
“If somebody says, ‘What is your wish?’ I’d say, ‘If I got a billion dollars a month in terms of government revenue, I can turn Tanzania into heaven,’” Mr. Kikwete told The Washington Times in an exclusive interview.
He doesn’t have that luxury, so he has turned to the international community for help.
Mr. Kikwete, 61, was one of four African leaders invited to attend a summit of the Group of Eight industrialized nations at Camp David last week. The other three were from Ghana, Ethiopia and Benin.
“The overriding message that we brought here is: Assist Africa. Transform its agriculture,” Mr. Kikwete said. “We underscored the fact that indeed there is cause for concern for food security and nutrition security in Africa.”
Africa accounts for about 236 million hungry people, more than one-fourth of the world’s total, according to U.N. statistics.
In Tanzania, malnutrition is the cause of high rates of infant and maternal mortality, and stunted, anemic children.
“There is a problem, and a serious one, that needs a solution,” Mr. Kikwete said.
“And the solution to problems of hunger and nutrition first and foremost is to ensure food security,” he said. “How do you ensure food security and nutrition security? You deal with the agriculture question.”
Between 70 percent and 80 percent of Tanzania’s population lives in rural areas. Agriculture is their mainstay.
Agricultural practices are untouched by modernity. Farmers still use handheld hoes to till the land, are overly dependent on rain to irrigate crops, sow low-yield seeds, and don’t use adequate amounts of fertilizer and pesticides.
“Unfortunately, our agriculture in Africa is characterized by backwardness,” Mr. Kikwete said. “We are not producing enough to meet our own food requirements … and our people are not producing enough to overcome poverty.”
In Tanzania, the challenge is “little application of modern science and technology in agriculture,” he added.