Dar es Salaam. “I sold 500 trees at Sh90,000 each - and earned Sh45 million that I actually didn’t expect. I was not aware that there was a reliable market for such tree species, which are widely used to make electric poles.”
That is how a tree grower in Mufindi District, Mr Essau Sanga, began to narrate how he made a small fortune selling trees used to make electricity transmission poles.
Mr Sanga reveals that, in the beginning, he had thought that he would have sold his trees at a loss before he could sell them profitably to a reliable buyer.
Since President John Magufuli issued a ban on the importation of utility poles from outside the country, while local producers had the opportunity to establish industries, electric tree growers say they now have assurance of selling their trees at a profit.
Another tree grower, Isack Mkana, explains that he anticipates to earn millions of shillings from his tree farm that produces electric poles because the market it there.
The director of Qwihaya General Enterprises - which produces electric poles in Mafinga District, Iringa Region - Mr Leonard Mahenda, says his firm’s sustainable production of electricity transmission poles began three years back after finding a reliable market.
The government - through Tanzania Electric Supply Company (Tanesco) and Rural Energy Agency (Rea) - has been the main buyer of utility poles produced by Qwihaya Company.
Recently, Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa visited the firm to see for himself electric poles production in action.
During his visit, Mr Majaliwa stated that the government would continue to buy electricity transmission poles from domestic suppliers and he urged farmers to continue growing trees in plenty.
The premier laid particular emphasis on the ban on local electric pole exports, saying the utility products might be reimported on false claims that they were produced outside the country!
Mr Majaliwa took the opportunity to call upon the workers in the industry to work hard so that they could attain their production goals - and even increase them.
Mr Mahenda explains that the move by the government to trust local producers of electricity transmission poles was historic.
“This is historic since independence as, previously, there was no market for electric poles produced locally. Now the government trusts us as it has invested in local producers. This means that our profits remain within the country,” he said.
Mr Mahenda further says that the ban on electric pole exports and importation not only assured tree growers of a reliable market; the ban had also broadened the hedge of employment opportunities.
Giving an example, he says that, before starting the production of electric poles, he had not less than 50 workers, but now the number has increased to over 300.
Qwihaya General Enterprises Production manager Fredy Gwega says many young people, who were previously jobless, now have got employment in the firm.
“When I say employment, I mean from harvesting, loading, transporting to the factory, off-loading and production. This work needs educated and uneducated youth, so all of them do benefit,” says Gwega.
He further says many young many are employed as truck drivers for transporting electric poles to different regions across the country.
Mafinga MP Cosato Chumi says the uninterrupted operations of the firm in his constituency has created many jobs for the residents, particularly the youth.
“Industries also contribute to the development of our district. So, this industry and others are an opportunity to us,” says Chumi.
A buyer of electric poles, who is also the owner of Tropical Electrical Equipment Company, Charles Mlawa, says as reliable market has indeed boosted the economy.
As an industry, he says, the number of workers has increased and residents living around the industry do earn a living by engaging in different businesses including food vending.
“When you walked past, you must have seen food vendors outside and young people selling different items because they know there are potential buyers here, who are employees of this firm,” says Mlawa.
“There are enough stocks of electric poles, which I have never missed to buy. We thank President Magufuli for realizing the importance of the production of this brand within the country because we have sufficient forest resources,” says Kilawa.
How electric poles are produced
Explaining the steps in electric poles production, Gwega says trees are normally de-barked after harvesting - and then moved into production.
“We put pieces of metallic plates on both ends of the poles when they are brought here so that they don’t rot. They will be left untouched for at least one month before being treated inside a machine against destruction,” he says.
“We have a big machine that can produce 300 electric poles at a ago. Our production is improving to meet market demands,” he says.
However, Iringa Regional Commissioner Ally Happi told the prime minister that the number of customers of forest products has started to dwindle and asked for government intervention. The reason for this is that the customers have now turned to Tanga and Njombe Regions which do not apply the five per cent levy on forest products.
Tanzania’s Forest Act of 2002 and the 2007 guidelines for forest harvesting require a trader in forest products to pay different levies, including five per cent, for a special forest fund. However, Mahenda says they have been cooperating with the regional administrations, and that the challenge has been for the customers running to regions that do not impose the levy.
Due to that challenge, Prime Minister Majaliwa, during his visit, wanted the firms that were buying electric poles to ensure they observed the country’s laws, including paying the requisite levies.
Mr Majaliwa directed the deputy minister in the President’s Office (Regional Administration and Local Government), Mr Mwita Waitara, to make a follow-up on why Tanga and Njombe Regions were not implementing the five per cent levy on forest products accordingly.
He also wanted all the firms that bought electric poles without paying the levy to be investigated and required to pay the levy they evaded.