FOR decades, the rural areas have suffered a double tragedy: backwardness in terms of development and a burgeoning population. As if that is not enough, rural people are a major source of capital formation and a principal market for domestic manufacturers.
Previously, the amount of reliable and usable information reaching rural dwellers was almost negligible although they constitute the backbone of national development -- agricultural economy and industrialisation.
One major reason for this has been the differential access to telecommunication infrastructure between urban and rural areas. With desired intent to ‘urbanise’ the rural population, the government through the Universal Communication Service Access Fund (UCSAF), decided to extend telecommunication infrastructure to such underserved parts of the country.
The government having realised that not all areas could be economically viable for provision of communication services, introduced the Fund to ensure that even those areas which lack economic potential have access to communication services.
UCSAF closed the deal with local telecommunication firms Tigo Tanzania, Vodacom, Tanzania Telecommunication Limited (TTCL) and Airtel --whereby the Fund committed itself to finance construction of communication towers.
According to the Fund, some 1,939 villages in 443 wards are now accessible on various mobile phone networks, a rollout that has cost the government some $36,899,328 to date. Over 400 towers have so far been built.
The communication towers, according to UCSAF Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Eng Peter Ulanga, were switched on between 2013 and 2016 and are run by Tanzania Telecommunication Company Limited (TTCL), MIC Tanzania (Tigo), Vodacom and Airtel.
A team of reporters of the ‘Daily News’ recently visited three regions of Rukwa, Mbeya and Iringa and witnessed how rural lives have changed for the better due to UCSAF communication towers project.
While the government had much expectation that more investors -- both local and foreign -- would flood the areas which are now connected mainly to tap business opportunities, the situation is different. The survey done by this paper for two weeks in the three regions found that despite being rich in natural resources with communication being simplified to a great extent, investors are still ignoring such areas.
The regions are among five sections which the government had incorporated in the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT) projects. SAGCOT is an inclusive, multi-stakeholder partnership to rapidly develop the region’s agricultural potential.
Agriculture is the country’s economy mainstay, contributing USD 13.9bn to its GDP (nearly 30 per cent) and 67 per cent to total employment.
The regions of Rukwa, Mbeya and Iringa, according to their geographical location, hardly experience drought, thus conduct agricultural activities throughout the year. Major crops produced in these regions include maize, rice, sunflower, wheat, tobacco, potatoes, tomatoes and onions.
Minerals, especially gold, are found in Chunya District in Mbeya Region. Residents in these regions expressed concern that most of their products are not finding reliable market, thus calling prospective investors to grab the opportunity.
“The area is famous for tobacco farming. After harvesting and drying up the crop we make calls to some traders who come for collection. Bad enough, they are not able to purchase all what we produce,” Kipalala Ward Councilor in Chunya District, Mr Alphonse Msulwila said.
He urged the government to look for investors to establish tobacco processing plants in the area, noting that the area is reachable all the year round and is currently accessing communication services. According to the World Bank’s crop production index, tobacco is among the country’s cash crops.
Raw tobacco represents Tanzania’s most important exported cash crop growing from USD 169m worth of exports in 2010 to USD 318m in 2015, followed by cashews which grew from USD 50m to USD 201m and coffee from USD 109m to USD 162m in the same period. Mr Msulwila said that by setting up tobacco processing factories, farmers would be in a position to benefit from the crop.
Ifumbo Village Executive Officer in Chunya District, Mr Emily Rajabu, asked the government and private companies to consider the possibility of setting up gold processing machines in the area to benefit small-scale miners.
The area is rich in gold and many people depend on mining, Rajabu said. According to the Tanzania Chamber of Minerals and Energy (TCME), gold production in the country stands at at 40 tons a year, which makes it the fourth largest gold producer in Africa after South Africa, Ghana and Mali. “I believe that by investing in the livelihoods of small- scale gold miners, we’re strengthening the economy.
The government should consider this; help us pass our message please,” Mr Rajabu said. Majengo Ward Executive Officer in Nkasi District, Mr Rocky Msalangi, commented that although telecommunication services have helped transform people’s lives, there were still a number of business opportunities which remain unexploited. He said that the ward is close to Kipili, an attractive lake shore port (Lake Tanganyika) which lies about 40 kms east of Namanyere town.
The ward administrator noted that the port has recently been recommended as a worthwhile stop not only for ferry travellers, but also for over-landers who want to break up the drive between Sumbawanga and Mpanda with a few nights at the lake. Mr Msalangi said that the place still has limited accommodation as there are only two lodges which cannot accommodate all people demanding the service. He appealed to businesspeople with capital to establish investment in accommodation-- building hotels, lodges and guest houses.
“Everything here is fine. Transport is available; communication services as you can also see are available. I wish someone gives me capital, I would right away invest in accommodation,” he said. Mr Emmanuel Wakolola, a farmer at Mwazye Ward in Kalambo District complains of post-harvest losses.
He owns more than 20 acres of land where he grows sunflower, maize and wheat. The farmer said that although he has a link with businessmen from Sumbawanga, Tunduma and Mbeya, still they could not buy what he produces.
“During the harvesting season, I keep in touch with traders who are in Tunduma, Mbeya and Sumbawanga. They come to collect the raw materials but still I remain with a huge stock,” he said. To avert post-harvest losses, he proposed for the establishment of milling centres and crop processing plants.
Linking the rural population to the telecommunication networks has also prompted high demand for mobile money services, vouchers, SIM cards and handsets. Mr Isaya Mnyilisi, a Kising’a Village Executive Officer in Iringa Rural district is concerned with disappointing investment in mobile money and other related services in the area.
He appealed to service providers and individuals to take advantage of the opportunity and establish mobile money services and shops for selling vouchers, SIM cards and handsets.