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February 12, 2012

A brief history of cotton farming in Tanzania



Cotton is Tanzania’s most important foreign currency earner after coffee. It currently fetches about US$100 million annually, and up to 500,000 rural families are said to be involved in its cultivation.

Once an important crop for many other African countries, few have been able to remain competitive in the cultivation of the ‘white gold.’ The vagaries of an intensely competitive international market, low yield productivity and controversial farmer subsidies in key cotton growing countries like the US are among some of the reasons that many African countries cotton sectors’ have declined.

The Tanzania Daily News, in a December 05 2011 article headed ‘Ups, downs of cotton farming Tanzania,’ borrows from a Tanzania Cotton Board report to give a brief overview of key developments in the sector since the crop was introduced at the start of the 20th century.

In the early days all the cotton grown was exported to Europe. Production was 7,200 bales in 1930, rising to 84,000 bales in 1959 and 440,000 bales in 1966.   

Various cotton marketing and regulatory strategies were experimented with over the decades, with various levels of success. Most involved heavy State involvement, in line with independent (1961) Tanzania’s socialism thrust. This was eventually abandoned for a free market economy, which served the cotton sector well. In the 1992/93 cotton season, production went up from 155,115 tons of seed cotton (equivalent to about 290,000 bales of lint cotton) to a record 300,000 tons of seed cotton or 570,000 bales of lint cotton.

Liberalization introduced greater competition in the sector and firmed prices, but also brought challenges with it.

‘Deteriorating cotton neatness, dropping productivity and crippled systems for input distribution and quality cotton seed production were some of the adverse outcomes of the competitive environment under cotton production and marketing. Cotton stakeholders have since 1999 put in place ambitious strategies to counter the impediments haunting the cotton sub-sector and boost production,’ according to the report.

A number of initiatives by the cotton sector and government in recent years have addressed some of these problems, leading to improved supply of farming inputs, research and extension services to cotton farmers.

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