Improve Nutrition, Market Access through Data: Tanzania Dialogue Summary

In the inter-connected world of food security, partnerships – among countries, regions, and development organizations – can play a critical role in achieving research- and evidence-based policies to increase the resilience of global food systems and to improve food and nutrition security for all. In this light, since 2014, IFPRI has held a series of food policy dialogues in Africa south of the Sahara, in collaboration with various regional partners as part of the Food Security Portal project. This series of blog posts examines findings from these dialogues and highlights lessons learned and next steps.

Countries can no longer address their food security issues in isolation; one country’s policies can significantly impact the food security situation of its neighbors and trade partners, and vice versa. To understand the full effects of transnational and cross-border trade, policymakers need increased access to reliable data and trustworthy policy analysis.

This was one of the major takeaways from the Tanzania food policy dialogue, held in November 2014. The meeting included representatives from IFPRI, Policy Research for Development (REPOA), and Tanzania’s Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security.  The need for more reliable, timely data was a theme that echoed throughout the entire dialogue, as the current lack of data can significantly impede progress toward food security and poverty reduction.

For example, while Tanzania’s smallholder farmers do engage in subsistence farming, most of these farmers also produce food for the country’s markets. The ongoing transition from subsistence farming is often misunderstood and understated, however, and this lack of information can prevent policymakers from enacting appropriate programs to support smallholder farmers in their transition to market-based production. In particular, more evidence-based research is needed to assess the true impact of the country’s National Agriculture Input Voucher System, which aims to modernize smallholder agriculture through the use of improved inputs.

Data is also lacking regarding how population growth, particularly in urban areas, will impact food production and consumption in the country, and how and where food losses actually occur along the value chain. Maximo Torero of IFPRI highlighted appropriate post-harvest loss prevention policies, such as improved handling and storage practices and the building of more rural roads, as a way to increase the resilience and sustainability of agriculture in Tanzania.

Additionally, we need a greater understanding of how non-farm economic activities impact Tanzania’s rural economy and food security. Lucas Katera of REPOA discussed this issue, stating that off-farm employment does not seem to contribute to the adoption of modern farming practices. However, Katera suggested that off-farm employment does in fact increase households’ food security and nutritional status, implying that interventions to promote off-farm employment may be a way to improve food security outcomes.

Participants highlighted the fact that issues of malnutrition and micronutrient deficiency are often overlooked. More attention needs to be given to the relationship between food production and nutrition. For example, while Tanzania typically produces adequate amounts of staple crops like maize, many of its people remain undernourished. More work is needed to provide not only adequate quantities of food, but also food of adequate quality.

In addition to increasing available data, improving education can also play an important role in fighting malnutrition. Participants discussed the need to find the proper channels through which to better inform the population about proper nutrition. In particular, young mothers were identified as a key entry point to the conversation.

 While many of today’s food security challenges, such as a climate change and population growth, are not new, they are increasing in intensity. To effectively deal with and overcome these challenges, policymakers rely on accurate, timely information. The dialogue concluded with a strong call to keep food security, and the improvement of food security information systems, at the top of Tanzania’s priority list. A subsequent dialogue in Tanzania is currently being planned and is intended to take place before the end of 2015. This next meeting will discuss ongoing research to build on the findings from the 2014 dialogue.  

By: Sara Gustafson, IFPRI

Photo credit:Flickr: Fintrac Inc.