by David Brewin
Fifty years ago Tanzania was the biggest producer of sisal in the world – some 300,000 tons per annum. Much of the landscape in Tanga Region and parts of the then Central Region was dominated by huge estates, often owned by private individuals or companies, under the management of Asians, Greeks and other Europeans. Most of the very hard work on the estates was done by thousands of contract labourers from Rwanda and Burundi.
Sisal is a species of agave native to southern Mexico but widely cultivated in many other countries. It yields a stiff fibre used in making rope and twine, and now has many other uses including paper, cloth, wall coverings, carpets, and dartboards.
The industry largely collapsed in the fifties when Tanzania’s socialist government nationalised virtually all but one of the estates (Amani), there was a rapid expansion in the use of combine harvesters internationally (sisal twine was no longer needed) and artificial substitutes began to be manufactured at lower cost. The Greeks returned home.
Then, in this century, the industry began to revive slowly as demand increased and new uses were found for the fibre. The government has now set new production targets and planting has started again. Yunus Mssika, Senior Quality Assurance Officer at the Tanzania Sisal Board (TSB) announced recently that the country planned to increase production to reach 100,000 metric tons by 2021.
All this is part of a 10-year Sisal Crop Development Plan started in 2012 aimed at increasing production of various sisal products, to increase utilisation of the sisal plant, to increase the country’s export market share, to undertake research and development of products and markets and to increase the participation of smallholder and out-grower farmers in the industry. The plan envisages putting in place biogas plants that will produce fuel for electricity generation on 14 estates.
According to the latest available statistics from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in 2013, global production of sisal reached 281,000 tons – 53% were produced by Brazil, 12% by Tanzania, 9% Kenya, 6% Madagascar and 5% by China. Currently a ton of sisal trades between $1,900 and $2,200. Prices have stabilized since 2010, following increased investments in the crop in Tanzania.
Sugar take-over by Magufuli
Following a major upheaval in the sugar market during recent months and evidence of many questionable practices, the existing private sector sale monopoly (controlled by a small group of people known as the ‘sugar barons’), President Magufuli’s government has taken over control of all sugar imports into the country – mostly from Thailand, Brazil, India and Indonesia. The result was, inevitably, a rise in prices, and serious shortages soon developed.
The President has also launched a major enquiry into the industry, especially into patterns of consumption and the extent of illegal smuggling to avoid tax. The Tanzania Sugar Board quickly arranged for the importation of 12,000 tonnes of sugar to relieve the shortages.
It seems the basic problem is that Tanzania is not producing enough sugar to satisfy local demand. This stands at 420,000 tonnes per year while local production was only 304,000 tonnes in 2015.
In a further development Minister for Agriculture, Mwigulu Nchemba, announced that the government had set aside 294,000 hectares to be allocated to companies looking to develop sugarcane plantations. The Minister said that the land would be allocated to investors through a tendering process, to be coordinated by the Tanzania Investment Centre.
In the light of this, Oman’s Minister for Industry and Trade visited Tanzania recently to lobby for his country to be given permission to invest in the establishment of new sugar estates and put aside a sum of up to $25 million as capital.
Live Animal Exports
In late May the government banned the export of wild animals outside the country for the next three years, until proper procedures can be put in place to ensure that only approved animals are transported.
Rise in Water Level of Lake Victoria
Following a long period of destruction of forests and poor agricultural practices exacerbated by recent heavy rains, the level of water in Lake Victoria is reported to have risen by a metre.
Over-fishing and oxygen depletion are said to be threatening its biodiversity with more than 200 indigenous species facing possible extinction. The members of the Lake Victoria Basin Commission, at a recent meeting in Entebbe, Uganda, studied ways in which these trends could be reversed.
Repossessing Idle Land
The country is in the process of conducting a nationwide audit to identify undeveloped parcels of land exceeding 50 acres with the aim of repossessing them. Minister for Lands, Housing and Human Settlements, William Lukuvi, said recently that ownership of idle land would be revoked and the land reallocated as part of wider efforts to end long-standing land disputes and ensure equitable distribution.
Ban on Shisha smoking
In early July Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa announced a ban on ‘shisha smoking’ in the country and asked clerics, parents and leaders to fight against dealers and smokers. All places that sell shisha were to be closed. ‘Shisha’ is a molasses-based tobacco concoction smoked in a water pipe known as a ‘hookah’. The directive was issued at the Khoja Shia Ithnasheri Mosque in Gandhi Street in Dar es Salaam. He said that shisha was killing the future of the country by wreaking havoc on the mental health of young people. The smoking habit has been gaining popularity among the youth with many believing that it is less harmful than cigarettes. Research conducted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) however, estimates that the volume of smoke inhaled during an hour long session is equivalent to smoking between 100 and 200 cigarettes.