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How to get a consignment of maize from Tanzania to Somalia, some 2,000 kilometres away? This was one challenge facing the UN World Food Programme this year. Although both Somalia and Tanzania have sizeable coastlines and well-established ports, overland transport was the most viable option given geographical proximity of the maize to the people it was intended for.
For WFP, the food supply chain begins with procurement – purchasing food at the right price and making it available on time to those who need it. Tanzania’s bumper harvests since 2012 have made it a grain basket for the region, as the government lifted the export ban on maize, allowing grain to be sold to its regional neighbours.
In Somalia, more than 730,000 people require emergency food assistance due to a range of factors including conflict, displacement, drought, flooding and high food prices. An additional 2.3 million people are struggling to meet their basic food needs and risk falling into a food security and nutrition crisis if they do not receive sustained humanitarian assistance. Reaching them, however, is difficult.
It was proposed that WFP should transport the maize by road from Dodoma in central Tanzania, where food was stored, through Kenya and into Somalia. But this was not without its challenges. The 700-km stretch from Garissa to Mandera alone takes two to three days. High desert temperatures mean that drivers have to stop regularly often in order to avoid burst tires. Passing through customs at the borders can sometimes take days. And security is unpredictable, especially at night, so drivers must stop at sunset and start again at sunrise.
“Clearly this is risky work, but security on overland routes has improved over the last decade and this is sort of the least-worst option to deliver life-sustaining support,” says, WFP Tanzania Representative Richard Ragan.
This year almost 1,000 metric tonnes – or 34 truckloads – of Tanzanian maize have been delivered to Somalia by road. Similarly, WFP transported some 13,000 metric tonnes of Tanzanian maize for hunger relief operations in South Sudan in 2014. WFP procures maize from local traders, smallholder farmers and the National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA) – the Tanzanian government body which stock piles food for emergency purposes. The NFRA buys from smallholder farmers and, as part of its stock recycling operations, sells to WFP and private buyers from warehouses in surplus production areas of the country. This benefits Tanzania’s economy and, has been demonstrated in the case of Somalia, can also help a neighboring country.