Anglican Church of Tanzania want to prepare for severe food shortages

8 October 2015

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The rains earlier this year came late and were not sufficient so people in central areas of Tanzania are already struggling to get enough food, three months earlier than the usual lean season. The Revd Canon Capt. Johnson Chinyong’ole is looking to get support to buy food stocks now from the highlands in the south of the country, where crops are being harvested, to store for later in the year. These stores will be used to provide targeted relief to those in direst need at the height of the looming crisis.

Canon Johnson would also like to set up seed banks, to ensure that poor smallholder farmers will have seed to plant when the rains come in December. Farmers harvested so little last year that they have no seed left to sow and no income to buy seed, let alone improved (drought resistant) seed.

As an example, Canon Johnson shared information from Dodoma, a region with 2.2 million people in Central Tanzania. Normally the region is self-sufficient in staple crops, though not in legumes. Generally smallholder farmers use income from the sale of crops like sunflower and sesame and animals to buy the foods they are short of, such as legumes. In this way they overcome household food deficit from their fields.  Currently Dodoma region is experiencing food insecurity caused by acute drought which affected about 70% of land cultivated for food and cash crops. Canon Johnson reports that the price of maize has tripled in some places. 

Dodoma is just one of the sixteen regions in central Tanzania that are impacted by this drought. All the central regions have had significant rain shortage that has limited their people’s ability to support themselves as they would normally do. Not only do they not have enough food for their households, they have nothing for their animals either.

According to early warning systems, in the Rift Valley and nearby midland areas, household food stocks from 2014/15 are exhausted, three months earlier than when this typically happens in November.

Canon Johnson is profoundly concerned that the current bad situation is going to escalate as households that have nothing now will have no hope of a harvest till March next year. The government has food reserves, but these are released to businessmen who transport them to areas of need. However, the prices charged are beyond the capacity of the most vulnerable households.

The church as part of the community knows precisely who are the most vulnerable. The provincial office wants to prepare, by buying stocks of staple crops and legumes from the harvests in the south, to be able to support those at most risk of severe hunger in January and February.

“The church needs to be a saving hand to the most needy; they know who to target,” said Canon Johnson. Having worked in development for many years, he lists the knock on effects of the drought beyond immediate hunger and malnutrition, leading to high rates of stunting and increased mortality in children under five, due to malaria and diarrheal disease, that the children are too weak to overcome. There are ways to prevent this: during previous droughts, school feeding programmes have helped keep children in school and ensured that they received one meal a day. Tanzania has had droughts in the past, so knows how to cope, but needs to resources now to be able to act.

A further indication of the severity of the drought can be seen by the power outages, long power cuts due to insufficient water in the hydroelectric dams. Farmers in these regions are concerned by threats to restrict their access to water for irrigation. While this might support power generation, it could seriously affect food production in these areas where larger scale agriculture is established to produce food for the country, according to a report in Business Day.

Robert Dawes, from the Mothers’ Union at Mary Sumner House in London, has been visiting the province and talking with Canon Johnson, Archbishop Jacob Chimeledya and the Mothers’ Union leadership in Tanzania about the drought. He reports “Canon Johnson’s concerns fit perfectly with thoughts and work we have been exploring around relief that have been led by the Mothers’ Union here in Tanzania.” Having provided relief support over several years, they are looking to work in a more sustainable and transformational way, through ongoing Mothers’ Union activities. “We are networking and planning at the moment,” Rob says.  

Episcopal Relief & Development worked with a number of dioceses providing emergency grants for food during the last drought in Tanzania and currently supports a food security initiative with the Diocese of Central Tanganyika. This aims to increase awareness on climate change and promotes mitigation techniques among farmers, including conservation agriculture. Episcopal Relief & Development is actively monitoring the current situation, as are Us and other Anglican agencies.

Please pray for the Church as they seek support for their initiatives and work to strengthen a national response within Tanzania. 

The Anglican Alliance is also working to raise awareness with UN and bilateral agencies and international NGOs. Preparation now, getting affordable food supplies and seeds in place, will save extreme hardship in drought-affected communities in the coming months. 

Photo Credit: Anne Wangalachi/CIMMYT. Tanzanian farmer with drought-affected maize in 2014.