September 15, 2014

Feeding Tanzania’s future population

Tanzania has a thriving economy, expanding by more than 6% annually. Alongside the economy, the population growth rate is also strong, which will challenge domestic food supplies.
Feeding Tanzania
Feeding Tanzania

Mainland Tanzania covers more than 940,000 km2, making it larger than all European countries but Russia. Factoring in its favorable climate conditions, Tanzania is seen as having a huge potential for agriculture. Yet, strong efforts are needed to increase productivity: At current yield levels, maize acreage must quadruple by 2050 to supply the growing population.

Growing maize consumption

Up to 80% of Tanzanians depend on subsistence farming. Though the economy booms and poverty rates gradually decline, making growth reach the poorest remains a challenge.

Several initiatives are ongoing to alleviate low productivity levels, such as the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT). This Public-Private Partnership aims to lift 2 million people out of poverty through collaborative action and investments.

Lack of food security is endemic, and triggering forceful action is vital: The population is predicted to grow from 45 to 138 million by 2050. At the current per capita maize consumption level, the supply of maize alone must increase from 4.65 to about 18.6 million tons. This can ease existing undernourishment, but assumes no diet change.


Tanzania’s maize growing has low productivity, with average yields of 1.55 tons per hectare. If yields don’t increase, another 9 million hectares of farmland has to be cultivated. While available space is no apparent issue, sustainable land use is.

Deforestation rates are estimated at 130,000 to 500,000 hectares annually, and agriculture is a main driver. If yields don’t increase, the population growth may escalate deforestation, with subsequent large emissions of GHG.

Higher yields are possible

In a private public partnership research program the partners Syngenta, the Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania, the Norwegian University of Life Sciences and Yara have documented how best practice farming methods impact productivity, profitability and the environment.

Here, average maize yields were increased to 5.4 tons per ha under rain-fed conditions. If the average maize yields in Tanzania increase to 6 tons per ha by 2050, the maize demand for the entire population can be met on the existing maize fields – diminishing the need for expanding farmland into forests.