Case Study: Tanzania

Although the economy of Tanzania has been growing at about 6% in recent years, well above the African average of 4.8% annual GDP growth from 2000–2010[13], it is one of the world’s poorest countries and a major recipient of international donor funding. In common with many on the African continent, where overall 70% of people make their living from farming or growing produce[95], its population of 48 million is largely dependent on agriculture, which generates 45% of the country’s GDP and 85% of exports. Indeed, four fifths of the Tanzanian workforce are employed on the land and almost all of them are engaged in that activity as subsistence smallholders.[96]Levels of malnutrition in the nation are among the highest in Africa, with 80% of one-year-olds anaemic and more than 40% of children under five stunted.[97]

Despite the fact that Tanzanians are heavily dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods, a large proportion of the country’s perishable output is lost after harvesting, much of it due to an almost complete lack of cold chain infrastructure. However, as is common across much of the developing world, robust official or academic data for these post-harvest losses is severely lacking, but nevertheless it is reported that almost 60 million litres of milk are lost each year, amounting to 16% of total dairy production during the dry season and 25% in the wet season.[98]Meat losses are also anticipated to be high, since 97% is sold warm, without ever having been chilled.[23]Losses of fruit and vegetables, which deteriorate more quickly in the higher temperatures of Tanzania’s arid equitorial region, could be as high as 50%, the upper estimate for Africa as a whole.[21]

The lack of cold chain has wide ramifications both for public health and economic development. Much of the food that has deteriorated to the point at which it should be discarded as unfit for human consumption is in fact eaten, often with severe unnecessary impacts on public health, which in addition to being a humanitarian issue lead to reduced workforce productivity and lost economic opportunity. Further, the fact that much of the produce that does reach the marketplace does so in a poor state means that African smallholders, such as those in Tanzania, often receive less than 20% of the potential retail value of their crops.[99]These low returns from agricultural production contribute to high rates of rural poverty and chronic under-investment in farming; as a result average crop yields are only about 50% of potential, with many farms across the continent only yielding a third of what would be possible with investment, creating a cycle that perpetuates a subsistence ‘lock-in’. In Tanzania, the lack of a widespread cold chain also means that hotels and other tourist businesses often import much of their food rather than using locally sourced produce, in order to guarantee its hygiene and safety. Besides being unsustainable and imposing costs on those businesses, this missed opportunity for the country’s farmers is adding to the vicious cycle.

Growth of agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa is about 11 times more effective at reducing poverty than growth in other sectors, [95]so investing in a solution to post-harvest losses should be a strong candidate for stimulating a shift out of poverty to increased well-being for many Tanzanians. One clear measure of the potential that could be unlocked for the nation by creating a reliable cold chain is the contrast between its horticultural sector and that of its northern neighbour Kenya. Horticulture in Tanzania accounts for 40% of agricultural exports and 9% of total exports but earns less than US$400 million a year.[100]Kenya’s exports to the EU, by contrast, are worth almostUS$2 billion per year, five times as much. Under its Kilimo Kwanza (Agriculture First) strategy, Tanzania aims to raise revenues from horticulture to US$1 billion by 2015.[101]But the Tanzania Horticulture Association (TAHA) says this target is severely challenged by the lack of cold chain technology as well as the disruption and additional costs caused by the country’s chronic electricity crisis.[85]

Fewer than 14% of Tanzanians have access to electricity and in rural areas, [102]which constitute most of the country, a power grid simply does not exist and the figure is just 2%.[103]Where grid power is available, it is expensive and extremely unreliable, with customers frequently cut off through involuntary ‘load shedding’. To mitigate this risk most farms and businesses maintain backup diesel generators that are not only costly to run, they are subject to fuel shortages and environmentally unfriendly. Developing access to reliable electricity supply is clearly a long-term ambition, but creating a national transmission and distribution grid infrastructure based on large-scale centralised power generation may not be the most economically viable, sustainable and resilient solution. As an alternative, in common with much of Africa[3], Tanzania has abundant renewable energy resources in the form of solar, wind and hydro which could be harnessed locally for electricity generation to form the basis of community-scale power micro-grid infrastructure. In many cases this approach will likely prove cheaper, quicker to build and more resilient than installing long distance connections to a centralised national grid.