SCIENTIFIC CONFERENCE ON AGRICULTURE, POVERTY ERADICATION AND ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY

CLOSING REMARKS BY HON. CHARLES N. KEENJA (MP.) MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE AND FOOD SECURITY, WHITESANDS HOTEL, DAR ES SALAAM 30TH SEPTEMBER, 2004

 

1.         Mr. Chairman, allow me to begin by thanking the Minister of State in the Vice President’s Office Hon. Arcado Ntagazwa and the organisers of this Scientific Conference on Agriculture, Environment and Poverty Eradication for according me the opportunity of joining you at its closure.  I am told that the conference has drawn its participants from the Agricultural Sector: Agriculture and Food Security, Livestock Development and from institution involved in Natural Resources, in Poverty eradication and environmental management.  I am also informed that this is the first time scientists from these sectors have come together to exchange ideas, experiences and research findings on how best the relevant issues can be approached.  I urge you to continue this cooperation for the benefit of the people of this country.

 

2.         Mr. Chairman, there is a close relationship between agriculture and poverty eradication and between agriculture and the environment.  Over 70% of Tanzanians live in the rural areas where their main economic activity is agriculture.  Statistics show that people who live in the rural areas and most of whom are engaged in agriculture, are three times as poor as those living in urban areas.  From these facts, it can be deduced that to reduce poverty we must improve both agricultural production, i.e. the volume of crops produced and agricultural productivity which refers to production per given area and which connotes efficiency in production.

 

3.         Increased production requires either expansion of land under cultivation or enhanced use of agrochemicals or usually both.  Increased agricultural production will lead to reduced poverty, increased food security and to a greater agricultural contribution to national economic growth.  Expansion of land under agriculture and the use of agrochemicals, including industrial fertilisers, herbicides, insecticides etc, invariably have adverse effects on the environment.  What we are required to do is to minimise these adverse effects while at the same time improving the efficiency at which we use the existing natural resources.  The consequences of continued environmental degradation are serious and in the long run, catastrophic.

 

4.         Our scientists must carry out researches and studies which will enable us to increase production of crops with minimum destruction of the environment.  I have had the privilege of perusing through extracts of some of the papers which were presented to this conference and I have been highly impressed by the knowledge which has been accumulated from your researches.  I would like to congratulate all of you for the good work done so far and again for deciding to convene this conference to share it.

 

5.         Research findings if made available to the farmer could bring about impressive changes in agricultural production and poverty reduction with minimum destruction to the environment.  Unfortunately such findings are rarely made available to the farmer.  Every research institution I have visited has impressive numbers of publications in their libraries, almost invariably in English and rich in scientific jargon.  In  fairness, I must add quickly that some of our research institutions have prepared pamphlets in Kiswahili which they sell or distribute free of charge to farmers and some are doing commendable extension work in their areas of operation.  Their reach is limited and the divide between research – extension and farmers remains as wide as ever.  It is due to this problem that my Ministry decided to re-unite research and development and training institutes under one department with the hope that agricultural students will be exposed to research methodologies and results during training and they will know where they can get research findings.

 

6.         Mr. Chairman, agriculture requires the understanding of many scientific issues and thus the more educated a farmer is the easier it will be for him to understand and apply the scientific knowledge involved.  In a country lime Tanzania where 70% of the population is engaged in small scale agriculture : cultivating 0.2 ha. – 2.0 ha. and where the level of education is low, it is important to organise the farmers into groups which can be advised by the few extension officers available.  Here I am assuming that the extension officer is properly equipped with knowledge and tools to enable him to offer the technical advice required by farmers.  In most cases, the extension officer is not so equipped and in terms of knowledge, the difference between the peasant and the extension officer may be non-existent.  We must re-train the extension officers so as to make them experts in the agricultural activities carried out in their areas and it is only when so prepared will they be able to bridge the gap between research and operations on the farm.

 

7.         Mr. Chairman, allow me to say a few words about the environment.  We Tanzanians know that the environment is important for our survival and we have many slogans which we use to manifest this fact.  Unfortunately we do not practise or enforce what we know.  Ever increasing tracts of land are being cleared every year to give room to shifting agriculture, trees are fell for charcoal, large herds of cattle, goats and sheep have tracked south to degrade land which hitherto was covered by vegetation and so on.  As a result of these activities, soil erosion has increased tremendously in some places rendering previously fertile land unproductive.

 

8.         The papers presented to this conference show that there are things which we could do to minimise this environmental degradation while maintaining and even increasing production.

 

9.         Agriculture is essential for our survival and prosperity –we cannot do without it.  We also realise that we must replace the nutrients which our crops draw from the soil and research shows that we can do so by using biological methods, such as nitrogen fixation with appropriate combination with mineral or industrial fertilisers to supplement replacement for soil nutrients through biological means and to provide elements which cannot be adequately replaced biologically.

 

10.       Some of the crops which we grow require the use of large quantities of chemicals, for example coffee and cotton.  Research has shown that there are “Integrated Pest Management (IPM)” methods which can minimise the use of such chemicals in pest control by applying them only when necessary or by using biological methods including control of pests using extracts from certain plants and by breeding crops which are resistant to pests etc.

 

11.       The IPM and biological control of pests have the advantage to the farmer of costing very little or nothing and therefore of enabling the farmer to save money which he would otherwise use in the purchase of pesticides and by so doing reducing poverty while at the same time protecting the environment.

 

12.       Mr. Chairman, it is clear that there is a body of useful knowledge which could be applied to every branch of Agriculture to enhance production and by so doing to reduce poverty.  It is also evident that whatever we do, a certain amount of environmental destruction is inevitable but there are practices which are more environmentally friendly than others.  The challenge before us is to make available to the farmer the knowledge which is available and to ensure that he applies it.  We must be more forceful in enforcing environmental protection measures because our survival and prosperity depend on the environment and its degradation will lead to increased poverty and doom to life on the planet.

 

13.       With those brief comments, I have the honour to pronounce your Conference Officially Closed.