Tanzania is classified as a Least Developed Country (LDC) ranking among the lowest in the Human Development Index (HDI). About 80 percent of the population derives its livelihood from subsistent and predominantly rain fed agriculture. Some 28 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. Yet, over the last three years, Tanzania's economy grew at the rate of 7 percent annually, driven mainly by telecommunications, financial services, transport and construction. Growth has occurred largely in urban areas, with limited job opportunities. Additionally, the discovery of large reserves of natural gas and crude oil offers the promise a new and significant revenue stream for the Tanzanian economy.

At the national level Tanzania is food self-sufficient. However, localized food deficits occur at regional, district and household levels mainly due to dependence on rain-fed agriculture and limited use of modern farming techniques. According to World Bank poverty estimates, there are approximately 12 million poor people living in Tanzania, which is approximately the same number as in 2001. There is a growing disparity between rich and poor, with poverty being more pronounced in rural than urban populations. Within urban settings the disparity is also growing in the marginal periphery areas where the population does not benefit from public services.

Given food surpluses in recent years, the government lifted the export ban on maize. As a result, Tanzania's role as a grain supplier for East African region has been growing steadily. The government forecasted a surplus of 1.6 million mt of cereal production for the 2013/14 cropping season, mainly attributed to the reliable rainfall and increased use of inputs, particularly improved seeds and fertilizers. However, adequate storage to accommodate excess production remains problematic as does the high level of post-harvest losses.

Despite the improvement in national food security at household and individual levels, there are serious problems with food utilization and associated factors leading to high malnutrition in the country. Tanzania's latest National Nutrition Survey reveals that 34.7 percent of children under five are stunted. Tanzania has a high maternal mortality rate at 454 deaths per 100,000 live births (TDHS 2010). Poor maternal health can be attributed to many factors, including inadequate access to and utilization of proper health services. As a result, healthy fetal growth is hindered, and mothers are susceptible to complications during pregnancy and child birth.

Over the last four decades, Tanzania has hosted refugees who fled civil strife and ethnic conflicts in neighbouring countries. While most refugees have voluntarily returned to their country of origin, over 60,000 Congolese refugees remain as a result of continued instability in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where a majority of refugees originate. More recently, tens of thousands of Burundians crossed over into Tanzania as a result of the crises in their country.