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August 12, 2008

Tanzania urged to pay more attention to non-traditional export crops

Traditional export crops, on which this article focuses, are crops that have been the major foreign exchange earners for the country over the years. These include coffee, cotton, cashew nuts, tobacco, tea, sisal and pyrethrum. Non-traditional export crops include oilseeds, pulses, spices and cocoa.

Cash crops production in Tanzania has been recording an upward trend since independence in 1961. Tanzania produces an average of 70,000 tonnes of wheat annually. The major production area is Hannang Wheat Complex in Arusha Region. The complex consists of seven autonomous farms with about 4,000 hectares of cultivated land. The farms recorded steady development from the 1970s with the financial and technical assistance f the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) to 1993 when they became autonomously operating schemes. Wheat production is complimented with large-scale private farmers in Arusha, Iringa and Kilimanjaro and other small-scale farmers in Ludewa, Njombe and Makete districts.

Another cash crop is sugar cane. For decades, it has been primarily grown in four estates, namely Kilombero Sugar Company, Mtibwa Sugar Estate, Tanganyika Planting Company and Kagera Sugar Limited. Apart from some out growers in Kilombero and Mtibwa estates, reports from the Sugar Board say that the annual sugar production is recorded at bout 115,000 tonnes per annum. This is an indication of a gradual increase, though the quantity is short of meeting the estimated market demand of 300,000 tonnes. Recent export reports show that this shortage has forced the country to import over 200,000 tonnes of sugar.

Then we have coffee, which enjoys a high ranking among the traditional export crops and is grown in various parts of the country. Agriculture experts say that in the past 20 years, coffee production has doubled, currently reaching about 50,000 tonnes per year. Production has declined due to reduced production in public estates; old age of trees, low input use and increased incidence of diseases, low returns to producers and the escalating costs of production. Coffee is predominantly produced in Kilimanjaro, Arusha, Mbeya and Ruvuma regions especially Mild Arabica, while Bukoba region produces Robusta. Hard Arabica is produced in Kigoma and Morogoro regions.

Another cash crop is cotton. It is traditionally grown in the Lake Zone, Tabora, Morogoro, Singida and Coast regions. Cotton Board reports show that in recent years, production of the cash crop has been on the upward trend, though yield per hectare is low, at 0.4 tonnes, as opposed to 0.6 – 2.0 tonnes in other African countries. The reports show that lack of better varieties, non-use of fertiliser and inadequate application of pesticides are threatening productivity. The soil infertility in the cotton producing regions has been depleted and disturbed. The ecosystem imbalance among others also contributed to low productivity. Experts say that to meet the market demand, production should be increased to a sustainable level of about 300,000 metric tonnes of cotton seed per annum.

Cashew nuts are among the traditional cash crops in the country, especially in the southern coast regions and their hinterlands. It is mainly grown in Mtwara, Lindi, Coast, Ruvuma and Tanga regions. The main cashew growers are smallholder farmers. Cashew nuts in Tanzania are primarily grown for export. A very small proportion of the crop is processed and consumed domestically. Current production is 90,0000 tonnes per annum. Major threats to the recovery of this crop are lack of effective operating factories, poor quality control and organization of primary procurement. Although total rated capacity of existing factories is over 100,000 tonnes of raw per annum, effectively only about 30,000 tonnes of raw nuts can be processed.

Also in the list is tobacco. It ranks fourth after coffee, cotton and tea in foreign earnings. The crop has considerable prospects to gain the number one slot as the country has great potential to hold acreage or increase productivity or both. Tanzania produces three types of tobacco; which are flue cured, fire cured and burley tobacco. The main tobacco growing areas are Iringa, Tabora and Mbeya regions, which grow flue-cured tobacco. Ruvuma, Kagera and Kigoma regions grow fire-cured tobacco while burley is widespread in Morogoro, Tanga, Lindi and Kagera regions.

Major threats to tobacco industry are low level of technology and adverse environmental effect. Production of the crop has continued to expand from 16,000 tonnes in 1990/91 to about 40,000 tonnes to date.

One of the highly earning exports in Tanzania is tea; Tanzania produces both organic and non-organic tea in both large and small-scale farms. The bulk of the crop is produced by large-scale estates, which are increasing in number as a result of the general policy of opening up the agricultural sector to private investment.

Tea production is labour intensive and offers substantial employment to people in the rural areas where both farms and processing plants are located. Tea is grown in Mbeya, Iringa, Tanga and Kagera regions. It is among the cash crops whose production has maintained an upward trend for several years; currently it is above 33,000 tonnes per annum, according to the Tea Board reports.

Sisal, which is not indigenous to Africa, is one of Tanzania’s main exports. It was introduced to Tanganyika (now Mainland Tanzania) from Mexico at the end of the 19th century. The leaf tissue of this plant yields hard, flexible fibres, which are suitable for making rope and twine, cord matting, padding and upholstery. International trading reports show that sisal accounts for two-third of world’s production of hard fibres, and about three-quarters of sisal consumption is for agricultural twine. The economic importance of sisal declined in the 1970s due to falls in world market prices caused by the introduction of synthetics as alternatives to sisal. The sisal industry in Tanzania is currently facing problems at both productions as well as on the world market.

There are about 82 estates in the country, mainly in Morogoro and Tanga regions but still annual production is as low as an average of 34,000 tonnes, reports from the Sisal Board reveal.

Small-scale farmers using traditional methods of farming in the Southern Highlands regions of Mbeya and Iringa grow the bulk of pyrethrum; the crop’s industry is in a situation of increase and decline in production threatening its viability. Currently its production is estimated at 2,500 tonnes putting the industry in great need for improvement reforms.

Another export crop found in the country is cocoa. It was introduced in Tanzania at the beginning of this century. It has gained importance as an export crop over the past two decades. The major global issue facing its production at present is over-supply of the commodity and the collapse of the international marketing arrangements. This crop is said to be a good small-scale foreign exchange earner, earning almost 6 million US dollars, surpassing many other non-traditional exports. It is mainly produced in Mbeya, Tanga and Morogoro regions.

Pulses produced in Tanzania include beans, cowpeas, pigeon peas, green beans, yellow and green grams, Bambara nuts and lentils. Some of these crops are important food items in both rural and urban areas. Production of pulses in Tanzania is mainly done in Kagera, Shinyanga, Mbeya, and Arusha regions.

Experts say that inadequate support services in terms of research, extension and modern inputs have combined to depress yields and total production. Other problems include disorganized domestic and export marketing system, coupled with insufficient information to link domestic market with the export markets.

Tanzania also produces spices for both domestic and export markets, these include sweet and hot pepper, chillies, ginger, onions, coriander, garlic, turmeric, cinnamon and vanilla.

The most challenging issues are availability of improved seeds and storage problems due to oversupply during the growing months and severe shortages during off-season. Export prospects are good for cardamom, onions and pepper (dry).

Daily News TZ

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