I N the 13th century, Marco Polo, an Italian merchant, explorer and writer, travelled to China. On his way back he came with a “souvenir”, and that was a Chinese food knows as spaghetti made from noodles.
What makes this “bizarre” gift to be notable is the fact that it evolved from being a Chinese or Italian food into becoming world food stuff. If you are a guest in almost any country in the world it is relatively easy to order spaghetti from a hotel attendant and be served without further ado than requesting ugali.
Why? It is now a global commodity that has relatively lost its originality. Well, today’s discussion is a bit far from spaghetti or Marco Polo, but it serves a purpose of cueing us into what appears to be a somewhat difficult subject to understand.
Thanks to an outbreak of Russia-Ukraine war many countries have resolved into imposing quantitative restrictions on the export of wheat, sunflower oil, palm oil and other related food commodities.
All these measures emanates from disruption of supply chain of grains and oil seeds which were chiefly supplied by Ukraine and Russia. Due to the ongoing war Ukraine is no longer able to export its commodities, having a good portion of its territory being undersieged by Russian troops.
Retrospectively, Russia and Ukraine being the leading exporters of wheat and good players in edible oils in the world, stores in a number of countries have gone down significantly.
To prevent countries from starving, one Government after the other have imposed quantitative restrictions on exportation wheat and edible oils.
According to one IMF official, there are 30 countries that have curtailed export of commodities including food and fuel since the war on Ukraine began. In March, Russia enacted restrictions on grains, fertilizer and sugar export to ensure its food security and help protect its domestic market.
In April, Ukraine limited exports of sunflower oil, wheat, oats and cattle to protect her ailing economy. Last month, India imposed an export ban on wheat with an intention of checking a rising price in the world market.
The New York Times reported some few months ago that Indonesia, which produces more than half the world’s palm oil, did halt outgoing shipments.
Turkey, in a similar fashion, stopped exports of butter, beef, lamb, goats, maize and vegetable oils. The list stands to elongate as we count days. While these measures tries to ensure availability of commodities they may be counterproductive as lack of affordability will be an obstacle especially to low income earners, in that, they will create scarcity which is a good factor in making goods expensive.
This is really serious because, as The Economist revealed recently that households in the emerging economies spend 25 percent of their budgets on food – and in sub-Saharan Africa as much as 40 percent.
This brings us to today’s very agenda. Should we also join the bandwagon and impose export restrictions of food commodities produced in Tanzania? The question is as tricky as sounds.
Tanzania is a region’s grain basket. Even if imports for wheat and rice will stop, Tanzanians will never go hungry as there are a lot of alternative sources of starch sources, starting from cassava to potatoes, if we will be ready to accept and persevere the pains of changing diet that one has spent his lifetime eating on.
Nevertheless, that assertion is too simplistic and hypothetical. There is no reason whatsoever to justify stopping importation of grains to the country especially when you have a very low production.
Should restrict exports?
There are commodities which are extremely sensitive and have to be looked at very closely, namely; maize and yellow beans. These are consumables that are shared by a huge number of households in the country.
But again, blanket ban will not help until we are sure of the current stock and refer to the weather forecasts – very useful in determining whether next season will give enough harvests.
As of now, there are no signs that will lead us in to believing that there is a shortage of grains in the country.
We know our production and consumption rate anything more needs to be treated as surplus and it will be naïve to impose an export ban altogether.
Even as we are trying to grapple with the shocking reality on disruption of supply of chain of food commodities, lest we forget that farmers are matured persons with independent thinking, their primary work of farming is not a charity to the nation but an enterprise like any that needs an utmost respect.