Tabora developing at a snail’s pace
By Peter Msungu and Lucas Ndanga
There are two schools of thought in the minds of people regarding the way they perceive about the growth or development of Tabora region as a whole.
There are those who perceive that the region is heading towards patial collapse or dying, due to extensive shifting cultivation of tobacco. These people have reasons for believing the region is dying a natural death.
They mostly bank on assumptions that the region lacks industries, both light and heavy ones, poor infrastructure, specifically roads and dependence on only one commercial crop-tobacco, which again, is the biggest threat to the environment.
Tobacco cultivation has left many areas naked and barren because trees have been cut like nobody’s busisness. The trees are cut for tobacco curing, firewood and charcoal.
The environment in many of these tobacco growing areas where massive tree cutting has taken place, have been eroded to an extent that they appear as if they were deserts.
Tobacco farmers keep shifting and thus causing more damage to the environment. This year they are at paint A, next year point B and in ten years time they will have covered so many miles. So just imagine the effects on the environment, terrible to say the least.
On a recent visit to Tabora, the President of Tanzania Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture, Elvis Musiba, advised that if the region is to improve from where it is, deliberate efforts should be made to open up more roads to link Tabora with its neighbouring regions of Kigoma, Mbeya, and Shinyanga which he believed were more advanced than Tabora.
Currently, the only reliable means of transport between Tabora and neighbouring regions is by rail. ’’Poor transport sector frustrates the development of agriculture,’’ said Mr.Musiba.
An economist who prefered anonymity, but is a frequent visitor to Tabora region and its environs, said transport is very important in the region because farmers with food supplies cannot sell their produce where there is no accessibility.
They need to access their supplies to areas with deficits. ’’Poor roads discourage foreign investors as well locals who are stakeholders in the agricultural sector,’’the economist says.
An environmental expert with Africare, Mr.Shidumu Mawe, who is very conversant with the development and growth of Tabora region, told the Sunday Observer that although tobacco contributes very highly to the National basket earnings, it is a threat to the environment and hence to agriculture. It is mainly for this reason some people opine that the region is dying.
The other school of thought perceive the region is now on the right track because they argue it is dveloping, albeit at a snails pace.
In recent years, there has been efforts by the government to introduce alternative crops to tobacco.
The alternative crops include paprika(pilipili) and drun stick tree(Mlonge), but farmers are pessimistic about the viability of these crops.
They lack market. Because of this they have gone back to cultivating tobacco which has ready markets.
’’We very well realise the effects of tobacco on our health and the environment, but because it is the fastest money earner, we have volumtarily opted for it.
Buyers come to our farms with ready cash to buy the crop, we do not lack market, for it is readily available,” narrates a tobacco peasant farmer in Urambo, who talked to this paper last week.
Information abound that the government, some NGOs and individual farmers have established afforestation programmes to replace trees cut down to pave way for tobacco cultivation or for firewood, and charcoal.
This was disclosed by some regional authorities who said that in the fiscal year 2001/2004, the region had planned to plant 10,425,386 tree seedlings. Out of this number very few survived, It is believed not enough care was given.
Many trees were planted during dry seasons and they thus could not tolerate the heat.
Of course as one drives from Tabora to Urambo, there are some patches of nicely planted trees that have taken shape and it is attractive to look at them. These are among those planted by some NGOs.
At this juncture the government is indeed at crossroads, because on one hand it badly needs the earnings from tobacco, while on the other hand it needs to conserve the environment.
If the government bans tobacco cultivation, it stands to lose its earnings from that product, and if it encourages tobacco cultivation it will turn Tabora region into a desert. The time to decide is now and not tomorrow.
- SOURCE: Sunday Observer