By Luitfred Kissoly and Azizi Rweyemamu and Sadikiely Dalley
As Covid-19 continues to spread and mutate across the globe, national governments are playing catch-up in their policy responses to the socio-economic threats posed by the pandemic, and the programmes adopted have been quite varied. For example, while many governments in Africa have rolled out targeted relief and stimulus programmes, relatively little has happened in Tanzania.
After the first Covid-19 case was confirmed in Tanzania in March 2020, the government introduced a number of measures. It closed schools, colleges and universities; it restricted non-essential movement, public gatherings and international travel; it imposed a 14-day mandatory quarantine for international arrivals; and introduced preventative health measures, such as wearing face masks, washing hands regularly and using sanitisers.
However, from May 2020, the government stopped reporting Covid-19 cases, with the official national tally of cases remaining fixed at 509. Then, in June 2020, all schools, colleges and universities reopened, and restrictions on public gatherings, non-essential movement and international travel were lifted.
At the same time, the then-president of Tanzania, John Magufuli, provided a lot of moral support to local food producers, assuring them that the country was not going to introduce any new lockdown and would even be selling produce to other countries which were under lockdown. He also assured the eight landlocked countries in the region which depend on the port at Dar Es Salaam that he would not jeopardise their interests by locking it down.
Tanzania locked out by neighbours
Nevertheless, although there was no longer a lockdown in Tanzania itself, the country found itself locked out by neighbouring countries, a number of which imposed strict entry requirements or even banned entry. For example, Zambia and Kenya imposed restrictions preventing Tanzanian truck drivers from entering.
While some of these restrictions did not last long, they had significant implications for local food producers, traders and vendors, severely disrupting the markets for their produce. For example, maize and onion traders from Arusha, many of whom are dependent on the Kenyan market, found that they could not enter the country or that they had to undergo a protracted process of Covid-19 tests on both sides of the border before they could cross.
All of this led to a decline in prices and many tonnes of food crops rotting in warehouses on the Tanzania-Kenya highway. Further problems with the maize trade arose in 2021 when Kenya accused Tanzanians of selling maize with high levels of aflatoxins, although the matter was amicably resolved after Tanzania’s President Samia Suluhu Hassan made a two-day official trip to Kenya.
Overall, the economic slowdown caused by the pandemic and the responses to it had a number of severe and quite unacknowledged impacts on the country’s food system. As demand slumped in the tourism sector, the market for food supplies to hotels and restaurants collapsed. Now, as the pandemic continues to produce significant impacts on local, national and global food systems, an urgent, comprehensive official response is required in Tanzania.
President Samia Suluhu – a new hope?
Immediately after taking office following the demise of then-president John Magufuli in March 2021, President Samia appointed a scientific committee to study the Covid-19 situation and make recommendations on the best course of action for the country in managing the pandemic.
The committee published its findings in May, recommending that the government should launch a public information campaign in an effort to contain the spread of the virus and take steps to strengthen preventive measures at all levels. It further recommended that the government should participate in implementing regional and international resolutions, including by collecting and releasing data on numbers and outcomes of Covid-19 infection cases in line with World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines.
These are clear indications that Tanzania has now changed course, moving from denialism to acknowledgement of: the existence of the pandemic; the disruptions Covid-19 has brought in key economic sectors, such as transport, tourism and trade; and the need to introduce an economic stimulus package in response, which was outlined by the president in April.
In her comments on boosting the economy, President Samia emphasised the need to find resources to support struggling sectors. As part of these efforts, it is important that the government attend to the country’s food system and actors given that Tanzania’s food producers, processors, traders and vendors not only help to safeguard food and nutrition security, they also enable achievement of the country’s larger social, political, environmental and economic objectives.
In supporting the food system, the priority should be to develop policy and regulatory measures that can mitigate further disruption and provide relief to affected businesses, many of which support the livelihoods of vulnerable groups, including women and youth.
To this end and in order to produce and implement effective policies and measures in the sector, all stakeholders should participate in a national dialogue on how to enhance the resilience of the food system in these difficult times. In addition, local authorities should be encouraged to continue to facilitate food production and trade by issuing and implementing enabling regulations in support of marketplaces and logistics.
Looking forward, the government may consider introducing targeted fiscal and monetary incentives to enhance the resilience of the food system and to shield the producers, processors, traders and vendors who keep the system going from further disruption as a result of the pandemic. These incentives may include modest grants and loans with friendly terms to ensure that production, trade and services in the food system are sustained.
Luitfred Kissoly is a Lecturer and Researcher and Azizi Rweyemamu is a Tutorial Assistant and Researcher at Ardhi University. Sadikiely Dalley is a research assistant on the present IDRC project and an Economics graduate from Mzumbe University.
This blog has been produced with the support of the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) which has funded a three-country study on ‘The impacts of Covid-19 responses on the political economy of African food systems’.
The research that informed this article is part of the African food systems and Covid-19 project supported by the IDRC. To learn more about this project, visit its page here: https://www.plaas.org.za/african-food-systems-and-covid-19/