AGRICULTURE

by David Brewin

Improving banana production
According to the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Uganda and Tanzania produce over 50% of all bananas grown in Africa and the crop is valued at $4.3 billion.

However, banana production achieves only 9% of its potential yield. A new $3.8 billion project, supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is planned to begin in June 2015 and is intended to support on-the-farm testing of newly developed banana hybrids and improve­ments in the technical capacity of the banana breeding programmes. The project will also support a number of students in PhD and MSc level studies to assist in the management of the project.

Pastoralists v. farmers issue moves to parliament
In the last edition of TA reference was made to the continuing clashes on land use between pastoralists and farmers. The issue came before parliament recently after the publication of a report.

MPs from livestock keeping areas sided with the herders while those coming from mainly agricultural areas blamed the herders for the land conflicts which have become common across the country. But there was a third groups of MPs who stood in the middle, blaming the government for not taking proper actions to implement laws and policies which should guide land management.

The debate soon became heated until Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda felt it necessary to warn that bias would create more problems and not help in finding solutions. He said that what was needed was friendly relation between the two groups to help them to live together peacefully.

Saving the Nile Perch
The population of Nile perch in Lake Victoria has been reduced from 1.2 million tonnes in the early 2000s to a mere 3,000 tonnes today.

It is a large fresh water fish introduced into Lake Victoria in 1954 to increase the fish population. Before the introduction of fish processing plants in the lake zone regions, Nile perch had little value and were favoured mainly by families that could not afford more expensive fish like Tilapia. But between 1992 and 2004 the status of the Nile perch rose dramatically due to demand from Europe following reports from scientists that the fish has omega-3 fatty acids which could help to check heart problems and high blood pressure. Now, 22 years later, over-fishing has drastically reduced Nile perch fish stocks.

Tanzania has been lobbying hard for Kenya and Uganda to support its own plan, called ‘Operation Save the Nile Perch’, to impose a six-month ban on fishing Nile perch over the next three years on its side of the Lake. This would replenish the stock, but leave its 200,000 fishermen without a livelihood for half the year and put $325 million in export earnings at risk. EU traders might look for alternative year-round sources of Nile perch. The plan would also affect hundreds of fish processing plants around the lake and threaten the nutrition of thousands of residents who depend on the Nile perch as a source of protein.

Sugar
In Tanzania about 50% of the sugar consumed is imported of which a proportion is smuggled into the country. In 2013/14 130,000 tonnes were expecting to be sold, compared with 103,000 tonnes in 2012/13. It is estimated that between 40,000 and 60,000 tonnes were imported illegally in 2014. Illegal sugar is hurting Tanzanian factories so much that some are at risk of being closed down.

Minister for Finance Saada Mkuya has announced that government will investigate the amount of taxes which are being lost through illegal imports and the impact of this on the sugar industry. Duty remission schemes would be changed after the investigations are complete. This move came after complaints from sugar producers that they had 55,000 tonnes of sugar in stock by December 2014 but were unable to sell it because the market was flooded with cheap imports.

The Kilombero Sugar Company, Tanzania’s biggest sugar factory has had a good year and has grown rapidly since it was privatised in 1998 when its production was 38,000 tonnes. The most recent figures indicate that 1.2 million tonnes was produced last year of which 700,000 tonnes of cane came from its own operations and 500,000 tonnes from independent out-growers.

Sugar producers in East Africa are forming an association to raise funds to help the region become self-sufficient by 2030 according to Executive Chairman of Agro Eco Energy, Tanzania, a subsidiary of a Swedish-based firm that has invested $550 million in sugarcane farming in Bagamoyo.

Onions, Avocados and Rice
The chair of the Tanzania Women’s Chamber of Commerce Fatma Riyami, led a group of business women to the Gulf Food Exhibition in Dubai in February. They came back with smiling faces as they reported that they had received orders for 1,000 tonnes of onions from Dubai firms, two containers of avocados from Qatar and rice from Oman. “It is high time Tanzanian growers acted rapidly and got a firm grip on this opportunity” she said.

‘Taking the Spice out of Cloves’
In an article in its January 2015 issue, African Business has explored the clove industry in Zanzibar. It said that cloves have been a major foreign exchange earner in Zanzibar for the last 150 years and they continue to be an agricultural mainstay of the island as the major cash crop. However, production figures continue to register a steady decline from an average of 16,000 tonnes in the 1970s to between 1,500 and 3,500 tonnes in 2013.

Part of the problem is the government’s ‘chokehold’ on the sector, despite the relaxation of some protectionist policies. The Zanzibar Minister for Commerce, Industry and Marketing said: “We cannot let the farming of cloves go into private hands because the commodity is the symbol of Zanzibar”. He added that free market operations would spell the death of the sector by subjecting it to price fluctuations and profit motives. In April 2014 Zanzibar’s President in a “State of the Nation” report, spoke of how his government would annually distribute one million clove seedlings for the next three years as part of a plan to enhance production.

But the uncompetitive prices that the government offers farmers have seen some hoard their harvest, sell it on the black market, turn their trees into firewood or charcoal or start farming other products like coconuts which can be traded freely. The clamour for a liberalised market however continues to be ignored and in January 2015 the House of Representatives endorsed a new Cloves Act that discourages clove growers from making charcoal or otherwise consuming clove trees.

The decline in production may adversely affect the island’s booming tourism earnings since visits to clove farms have become a cornerstone of the island’s tour packages.

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