The United Republic of Tanzania is the only country in Africa, and perhaps in the world, that within a span of 40 years has gone through rapid and radical transitions – from a colonial system to a programme linking rural households to social services, to a market economy – without sacrificing basic democratic ideals and social equanimity. During the process, all of the country’s social, political and economic institutions underwent drastic transformations, to adjust and conform to rigid national guidelines and priorities. Such changes seriously affected the economy, and resulted in a gradual and protracted decline of all growth indicators during the 1970s and 1980s. Since then, the country has recovered significantly, mainly through the implementation of various structural adjustment and restructuring programmes led by the government with the help of a coalition of donors. This recovery has made the country a trend setter in Africa, particularly in terms of adapting to new ideas, dismantling tribalism and ensuring an intrinsic balance between a market economy and social justice.
Rural poverty in the country has been halved in the period from 1985 to 2001. At present about 38 per cent of people living in rural areas are classified as poor. This progress is reflected in the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Index for Tanzania, which rose from 0.3 in 1991 to 0.4 in 2002. Nevertheless, poverty is still widespread and acute, and is generally a rural phenomenon: about 85 per cent of the country’s poor people live in rural areas and rely on agriculture as their main source of income and livelihood. According to the Household Survey of 2000/01, some 20 per cent of rural people live in extreme poverty and about 39 per cent are considered poor. Within the agriculture sector, food crop producers are generally poorer than cash crop farmers, but both operate under cyclical and structural constraints, are subject to frequent natural calamities (drought and flooding), and lack market linkages, inputs, credit and irrigation water. Income inequality for rural areas has remained more or less constant and is rooted in inequitable access to productive assets, including land, financial services, livestock and education. According to a poverty profile survey of rural households, the percentage of the rural population producing food for home consumption has dropped by 10 per cent in the last decade. Few rural households have access to safe drinking water, primary education and medical treatment. There is also clear evidence that poverty increases with the distance from markets, drinking water supplies and health clinics.
Incidence of poverty
The incidence of poverty varies greatly across the country but is highest among rural families living in arid and semi-arid regions that depend exclusively on livestock and food crop production. The people of the central and northern highlands are nutritionally the most deficient, while the coastal and southern highlands zones register the severest levels of poverty. From the point of view of policy and strategy design, no region is significantly better-off than the other, and all are very poor by any international standard.