Good rains may produce bumper crop in Tanzania. But storage and equipment problems could undercut gains

In the countryside away from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania's capital -- where shortages, black marketeering, and malaise prevail -- the picture is refreshingly different. The road from Arusha to the Ngorongoro Crater runs through miles of lush valleys with fields of shoulder-high corn, interplanted with beans. In this region alone -- one of the half-dozen major food-producing areas in the country -- more than 340,000 acres have been planted with corn, and almost 81,000 acres with beans.

After more than three years of drought, the first rains of the season have transformed Tanzania into a country with the promise of an abundance of food. There should be enough to establish a reserve stock and perhaps have something extra for export.

But there is a catch. Storage facilities for the expected harvest are inadequate. There aren't enough vehicles in working order to transport the crops from the fields. And if there were, there still isn't enough fuel available.

The vehicles themselves are there, but 40 percent of the 1,600 tractors in the Arusha region are out of commission because of a lack of spare parts.

This year's corn crop is estimated at 294,800 tons, compared to 160,000 tons last year. The bean crop is expected to yield 32,500 tons, up from last year's 23,000 tons. And the private farms in the area -- most of them run by European companies -- promise a rich crop of beans for export.

But there will be very few goods in the shops for farmers to buy with the earnings from their bumper crops. There is an absence of such basics as sugar, soap, cooking oil, and rice as well as ``incentive goods.''

What is available is horrendously expensive.

The problem here is not one of incentives to make peasants work harder but of shortages: of cement to build more storage facilities, of spare parts to repair and operate farming vehicles, of fuel to run them, and of consumer goods.

The reason for these shortages can be summed up in a phrase: a shortage of foreign-currency reserves. That translates into drastic cutbacks on imports such as spare parts.

Tanzania's cement industry, with limited replacement parts for machinery repair, is underpro-ducing. As a result, storage tanks made of concrete are in short supply.

Most factories have operated at one-third to one-half of capacity for more than three years. Shortages of tires and tubes, as well as spare parts, have immobilized the expensive imported fleets of tractors and transport vehicles. Essentials that are taken for granted elsewhere are often the principal bottleneck to efficient harvesting and storage in Tanzania.

It is this situation that has made President Julius Nyerere so angry with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which he blames -- along with the adverse conditions imposed on developing countries by the system of world trading -- for his country's present plight.

Now that Tanzania, after one good rainy season, is on the verge of producing a food surplus, Mr. Nyerere hopes, but does not expect, that the IMF will soften its stand.

The IMF had provided aid of more than $100 million per year but has cut back to less than half that. The IMF insists that Tanzania must institute further economic reforms before the bank will consider an increase in funds.

An agreement to provide the country with foreign exchange could start Tanzania on the road to recovery.

Meanwhile, recent drought and foreign-exchange problems combined with the government's overstaffed bureaucracy and overcentralization, have eroded the country's base for any quick recovery. Even if it has another three good rainy seasons and bumper crops, Tanzania would only be back to where it was in 1973 -- when its economic growth began to plunge.

At long last, Nyerere says, there is a little light at the end of the tunnel.

But how quickly Tanzania emerges from the tunnel depends not on charity or handouts. It depends more on disinterested international aid in the form of repayable loans on conditions that do not threaten the social and economic equity that is the basis of the country's socialist policies.

Some policies perceived to have been in error are being reversed. The farmers' cooperatives are being decentralized. The private sector is being substantially enlarged, and the nationalization of the sisal estates has been undone.

These policy revisions and decentralization efforts are unrelated to the IMF requirements for increased aid to Tanzania.

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