Geita. Drought, pests and marketing woes have so affected cotton production that farmers are now discouraged to continue growing the cash crop.
Major cotton-growing regions — Mwanza, Shinyanga, Mara, Tabora, Simiyu, Singida and Kigoma – have been hit hard.
Cotton is one of the country’s traditional exports that generated $43.1 million in the year ended April 2017, according to the Bank of Tanzania.
Some 500,000 smallholder farmers cultivate 400,000 acres of cotton and an average of 300 kilos is harvested annually.
A Lubeho villager in Mbogwe District, Geita, Mr Mpendawali Makonope, is sad that his farm has been scorched by drought.
“I have a five-acre farm of cotton and I expect to harvest about 1,000 kilos. That’s an average of 200 kilos per acre. When weather was favourable I used to harvest up to 3,500 kilos per acre.”
Mr Makonope, with a family of 22, has been hit hard.
He has been growing cotton for decades, but the situation became bad in the past three years. He no longer depends on farming for a living.
“I’ve bought milling machines and operate them commercially to meet my family’s needs.”
Mr Mashaka Francis has a cotton farm of 5.5 acres. Pests that are resistant to pesticides have wreaked havoc on it.
“Pests will reduce the harvest to 1,500 kilos, down from 3,000 kilos I normally get. I sprayed pesticides six times on the plants to no avail,” he laments.
Another farmer, Mr Maguha Mayala, of Kahumbi Village, raises a similar concern. He expects to harvest 1,000 kilos of cotton from 3.5 acres. “This is a terrible year for cotton farmers. Pests and drought have ruined our farms. However, I have grown cassava to get food.”
Mr Juma Kusekwa, of Isaka Village in Buchosa District, Geita, invested significantly in cotton, but a pest has devastated his farm.
“I’ve been encouraged by President John Magufuli’s speeches to industrialise Tanzania. I cleared land and grew cotton, hoping to get a bumper crop for sale, but pests have shattered my dream. I expected to get 1.5 tonnes of cotton from five acres, but I’ll just get 500 kilos. Pesticides no longer kill pests; they are resistant.”
Tanzania Cotton Board official Atupele Mwakijolo accuses the Tropical Pesticides Research Institute (TPRI) of misleading farmers on the types of pesticides to be used.
According to Mr Mwakijolo, whenever farmers raise matters, they are dealt with accordingly.
“If they are about pesticides, TPRI is duly informed. If they are about weighing there is the Weight and Measurement Agency and if it’s a problem about seeds, the Tanzania Official Seed Certification Institute is made aware of it.”
However, he said the cotton price had improved to Sh1,100 a kilo.
Ukiriguru Agricultural Research Institute field officer Stella Chirimi urges farmers to adopt good methods to increase yields.
“A farmer is supposed to get approved seeds so as to avoid diseases in earlier stage. The best seed is UKM 08 which can produce up to 800 kilos per acre. It thrives in wild, sandy, silty and clay soils.
“The soil should be dug 100cm to enable roots to penetrate and the farm should be prepared as early as October and November. It should be planted onto terraces of 150 or 90cm, 2.5m apart.”
Seeds should be planted in rows of between 90 to 40cm and 150 x 45cm between lines.
According to her, a hectare will have 28,000 holes and an acre 12,000 holes. Each hole will have two seeds and the hectare will have 56,000 plants or 24,000 plants for an acre.
“A farmer can use 7.5 tonnes of composite manure in one hectare or three tonnes per acre after each three years. Fifty kilos of TSP can be used for 1.5ha or 0.5 acre. Urea, DAP, CAN or Nitrogen fertiliser can be used for growth.”
She names Fusarium wilt caused by Fusarium oxysporum fs vesinfectum – as fungus -- for killing cotton plants.
“The fungus can live in the soil for years even if cotton was not grown. It can cut production by 20 per cent. When the plant is infected its leaves become grey and shrink while the stem becomes black before the plant rot.”
Since no chemical can kill the fungus, she has advised farmers to uproot the plants, burn them and put the farm under quarantine or grow other crops such as maize or cassava, which are not affected by it, for about five years before replanting cotton.
Alternaria macrospora and Alternaria altenata, also fungi, can stay cotton plants after harvesting for some years.
She also mentioned Xanthomonas malvacearum—a bacterial species -- that attacks plants in all stages by drilling, sucking fruit and stems. Caterpillars also attack cotton fruit.
Cotton aphids, spider mites, thrips, stink bugs and whiteflies also affect plants.
She called on farmers to sow seeds and harvest crops on time and burn the remaining plants.
Planting varieties that are resistant to pests and using control are important. The latter involves using insects which eat pests and their eggs.
Another technique is spraying plants and seeking advice of extension officers.
Cotton organic farming is practised in Tanzania while in some African countries such as Sudan and Burkina Faso biotechnology is used to produce seeds which are resistant to drought and pests.