Dar es Salaam. Tanzania’s digital transformation can play an important role in the country’s economic growth especially in the agriculture sector that employs the most of its workforce.
However, the country’s digital transformation journey faces a number of barriers like affordability, poor infrastructure development, lack of awareness, illiteracy and little know-how as well as high costs, according to stakeholders.
Vodacom Foundation’s external affaird director Roselyn Mworia shared the insights last week during the breakfast debate organized by Policy Forum.
She was tabling a paper on behalf of the Tanzania Mobile Network Operators Association (Tamnoa) titled ‘Digital Transformation Journey: What is the contribution to economic growth and social development?’
Speaking during the event, Ms Mworia said to address the affordability challenge the government reduced mobile gadget import levies through the Finance Act 2021 in order to ultimately cut costs.
“The government is also implementing the National Broadband Strategy 2021-2026 aimed at providing speedy, quality and cheap internet services to users. Mobile phone service providers are therefore supposed to benefit from the government investment,” she said.
Tabling the 2021/22 budget, the then minister for Communication and Information Technology, Dr Faustine Ndugulile, told Parliament that the government was expected to implement the National Broadband project aimed at expanding to the 400G from the current 200G technology.
“The government will also construct a total of 1,880 kilometres of broadband infrastructure in the 2021/22 as shown here: Musoma-Simiyu-Shinyanga (304 kilometres); Tabora-Uvinza (315 kilometres); Manyoni-Mbeya (529 kilometres), Babati-Dodoma (270 kilometres); Chato-Bwanga (60 kilometres); Isaka-Kahama (42 kilometres) and Ifakara-Mlimba-Songea (360 kilometres),” he said.
Dr Ndugulile who was later replaced by Kondoa MP Ashatu Kijaji said through the project, 17 new broadband service stations will be constructed to district levels in the country.
But, Ms Mworia said public and private sectors were challenged to address other challenges of limited awareness, illiteracy and inadequate skills especially among Tanzanians in rural areas for the agriculture sector to benefit.
“Currently, 46 percent of the population have been covered by the national broadband network as compared to the 80 percent target. However, only 48 percent of the population is accessing the network,” she said.
Regarding the costs, Ms Mworia said Tanzania massively taxes the mobile sector as compared to countries in Sub-Saharan, Middle East and North Africa, Asia Pacific, Europe and Latin America.
She said, for instance, when someone buys a Sh100 voucher, 34 percent goes to the taxman leaving him/her 66 percent for buying airtime, bundles etc.
“However, in Latin America and Sub-Saharan countries, the same amount would provide users with shillings 88 and shillings 74 respectively,” she said, adding that the said charges were different from the recently imposed to support the country’s development.
But, Ms Mworia said however that when positively taken digital transformation will improve efficiency in doing business, reduce costs of trade, cut required time for services delivery and eliminate conveniences to access related services such as e-commerce.
According to her, digital transformation has proved to increase income, market connectivity, productivity and interaction between farmers and buyers in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Malawi.
“In Tanzania, users of an agriculture value-added service pilot were 39 percent more likely to report increased income in a given year than those who did not,” she said. She said users used the services including Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD), push SMS subscriptions, Interactive Voice Response (IVR) and a helpline to provide farmers with market information, weather forecasts and agronomic advice on major crops.
She said the agricultural exporter- (Multi-flower) in Tanzania found that switching to bulk mobile money payments from individual cash payment increased efficiency as well as saved costs.
“Farmers could receive loans and payments directly via their gadgets, therefore saving travel time and associated costs incurred for cash collection. It is estimated that 300 farmers saved $8,000 and 6,000 hours,” she said.
Ms Mworia said in Uganda coffee farmers who used mobile money were found to receive seven percent higher prices for their produce than non-users, because they were able to reach buyers in high value markets than traditional local purchasers.
She said in Kenya, digital platforms enable mobile phone farmers and buyers to directly transact, with a 2014 study finding indicating a significant increase in productivity by small scale farmers.
“Through digital transformation, farmers’ access to markets increased significantly, likewise to the use of improved seeds by at least Ksh285 per acre as well as stimulating use of fertilizers,” she said. She said almost half (48pc) of active users in Malawi reported change in planting; 39 percent in land management and 44 percent in improving harvesting and post-harvest practices.
During the event, a discussant, who is the director of policy, research, advocacy and lobbying from the Tanzania Private Sector Foundation (TPSF), Mr Andrew Mahiga, said some connected parts of the country were used inefficiently. “This could be associated with higher costs or lack of enough education. As a result, citizens’ use of mobile phones are limited to voice calls, text messages and small other uses,” he said.
Mr Gaspar Baltazary-a national consultant on trade facilitation from the University of Dar es Salaam (Udsm) said formulation of digital policy was important for the country to benefit with digital transformations.
“The transformation involves people’s online interaction and doing business. How will people trust each other to the extent of engaging in money transactions without effective policy?” he questioned.
However, he hailed the government for waiving Value Added Tax (VAT) on imported gadgets.
Mr Mtegenda Hussein, a resident of Dar es Salaam and hip hop artist said the legal and regulatory framework required major reforms to support the country’s on-going digital transformations, noting that the present don’t serve the intended purposes.
But, the director of crop development in the Ministry of Agriculture, Mr Enock Nyasebwa, said digitalization of the country’s agriculture was being implemented in phases to support crop development.
“Through M-Kilimo, farmers can be provided with advice on crop production and marketing updates without necessarily meeting extension officers and marketing or cooperative officers,” he said.
He said the technology such as drones in reaching extremely remote farmers and in carrying out agricultural activities including research and distribution of better seeds was another area of the country’s agriculture benefit.