Tanzania’s Poor Farmers Gain Access to New Tractors

Mar 72011

The headline in The Guardian’s Kilimo Kwanza read, “US $40 million tractors still gathering dust and rust.” The lead story made it clear that the Tanzanian government’s plan to sell tractors to farmers was a flop. The tractors were purchased with a government loan from India—and the plan was to pay the loan back as the tractors were sold. The story detailed how farmers who desperately needed the tractors simply couldn’t afford to buy them.

A new story by Knight Fellow Joachim Buwembo's creation "Kilimo Kwanza" prompts a speedy delivery of tractors to Tanzanian farmers.

Reporter Maurice Chirimi expected government officials to be embarrassed and angered by the story. Instead, the official in charge of the tractor project called a few hours after the report was published to offer his congratulations on a story well done. As a result of the publicity generated by the story, the official had already met that morning with a delegation from the prime minister’s office who wanted to help farmers secure loans to buy the tractors.

“He had also been in contact with the Tanzania Investment Bank,” says Chirimi, who reports for Kilimo Kwanza, a weekly agricultural supplement started by Knight International Journalism Fellow Joachim Buwembo. “And later that day, two officials visited our office to personally thank us. Local radio stations also picked up on the story and ran analysis, gathering comment from listeners.”

As momentum and support built, banks promised to approve the financing and make loans to farmers. Now, two thousand tractors are finally beginning to make their way to the Tanzanian farmlands where they are desperately needed.

Back in October, the first tractors arrived at the port of Dar es Salaam after the government of Tanzania got a $40-million loan from India. It was the single largest order of tractors ever made between the two countries, with the loan to be repaid using Tanzanian taxpayers’ money. The deal underscores the country’s commitment to the “Green Revolution,” a national effort to revamp the country’s agricultural industry.

The tractors were parked in a government sales lot along a busy highway, waiting to be sold. And there they sat. “I use that road on the way to and from work and after weeks, then months, I noticed that although the number of tractors was increasing, none appeared to be sold,” remembers Chirimi.

He reported that only 20 of the nearly 2,000 tractors had been sold. With interest piling up, the price tags were also climbing: the least expensive vehicles, initially priced under $13,000, were more than $16,500.

Both the cost of the tractors and the loan-repayment terms were simply out of reach for most Tanzanian farmers, Chirimi reported. “Difficult lending conditions… have severely curtailed uptake of the mechanization,” he wrote.

The story proved to be a catalyst for change, prompting the government to prod reluctant banks to help finance the loans. “More loans are being processed and sales have picked up considerably,” reports Chirimi.

Knight Fellow Joachim Buwembo has handed over management of the supplement to The Guardian while he focuses on other projects in the remaining months of his fellowship. Buwembo says it is gratifying for such a high-profile story to have such clear impact. “This shows the significant results that can come from reporting on agricultural issues, and is strong evidence of the long-lasting sustainability of this project.”