In November, communication officers from VECO’s 8 offices across the globe met in Arusha, Tanzania, for VECO’s very first international communication workshop. Our mission? Discuss our future collaboration within VECO’s revamped organisational structure (see “VECO on the move” for more details about this transition). During this 10-day event, each of us had the chance to participate in a “Learning Journey”, a two-day visit to discover some past or current projects that aim to develop a more sustainable, healthy and farmer-friendly food system in the region.
I was lucky to visit VECO East Africa’s projects around Arusha which have focused on strengthening the vegetables value chain from farm to fork. For many years, VECO East Africa has been supporting farmers to become more business-oriented which in turns has helped them become more attractive for buyers such as export companies. The successful outcomes of this programme for farmers have already been quite extensively covered (see project page: fruit and vegetables in Arumeru). Instead, this blog post aims to shed some light on one of VECO’s key strategic partners: TAHA – Tanzania’s Horticulture Association.
Established in 2004, TAHA is a member-based business organisation that represents all value chain actors in Tanzania’s horticulture subsector including producers, traders, exporters and processors. As such, it is composed of individuals, groups and organisations who work in the fruit and vegetables, spices, flowers, herbs, seeds, roots and tubers value chains. Its vision is that of "a vibrant, prosperous and sustainable horticultural industry in Tanzania."
TAHA has three main objectives. First, it advocates for the development of an enabling environment for horticultural businesses in terms of taxes, policies and the overall regulatory framework. It acts as a bridge between its members and the government but also with financial institutions whom it convinces to develop tailor-made products for the horticultural subsector. Second, TAHA provides technical support to smallholder farmers and value chain actors to make sure that they have the capacity to apply good agricultural practices and innovative technologies. Third, it helps its members find profitable markets for their produce and facilitates trade for them. For instance, TAHA developed an online system that provides information about horticultural prices and buyers’ contacts in 16 key markets around Tanzania, and even Kenya. This service is available to everyone, member or not, and can easily be accessed via mobile phone.
Due to its extensive network representing various types of actors in the horticultural subsector, TAHA has gained legitimacy with decision-makers. Its in-depth understanding of issues affecting farmers, processors and traders has led TAHA to be regularly called by the Parliament to share its knowledge and insights during hearings.
Thanks to TAHA, smallholder farmers can get their voice heard at the highest levels of government, something unimaginable in the absence of the organisation. One of TAHA’s characteristics is that it represents all of the country’s farmers regardless of their farm size. And as mentioned by TAHA itself on its website, “The industry largely depends on smallholder farmers, with export of fruits and vegetables alone being 70% dependent on farmers with land holding less than 2ha.” 
The industry largely depends on smallholder farmers, with export of fruits and vegetables alone being 70% dependent on farmers with land holding less than 2ha.
Executive Director of TAHA
Thanks to its effective advocacy, the Association has had some pretty big wins so far…
One of them is the inclusion of some agricultural equipment in the exemption list of the revised value added tax. In 2014, when the Tanzanian government reviewed its law on value added tax, almost all modern equipment for agriculture was left out of the exemption list. After intensively voicing its concerns about the inappropriateness of the measure, TAHA eventually managed to convince the government to add this equipment – such as drip irrigation kits and greenhouses – to the exemption list. With a tax set at 18%, the positive impact on smallholder farmers is straightforward.
In the coming year, TAHA plans to work towards more food safety in the horticultural sector. The organisation is planning to design a roadmap which will result in a position paper outlining key actions to improve food safety. Thanks to their reputation as a reliable, knowledgeable and trustworthy partner, they intend to present their proposal to the highest political level – directly to the president!
TAHA’s example shows that great results can be achieved for the safety and sustainability of our food systems when actors throughout the value chain come together and defend a clear perspective.
VECO East Africa and TAHA have now been partners since 2014. As part of its programme, VECO is supporting TAHA to advocate the government to improve the road infrastructure and to create a reliable framework for smallholder farmers. In the future, both organisations are planning to collaborate on a Safe Food Chain initiative for Arusha, joining their forces to create more opportunities for safe food production.
Working in a country where the voice of smallholder farmers can hardly be heard at high levels of government, I find TAHA’s experience to be very inspiring. This learning journey was very rich in insights. Not only for communications colleagues, but also for all the partners we met who were interested in learning how VECOs worldwide tackle similar issues. Back in Hanoi, our office will continue to work towards a better deal for smallholder farmers. In particular, we want to replicate and strengthen our activities promoting the Participatory Guarantee System for safe vegetables which we believe is critical to sustain safe food supply for Vietnamese cities and empower farmers and citizens alike. Finally, seeing TAHA’s example inspires us to materialise an idea that we’ve had for a long time now: to bring together all types of actors across the safe vegetables value chain in a policy platform with a view to making concrete propositions on how to create a better enabling environment for safe vegetables production and consumption.