Resurgent crops that could totally change your fortunes

Monday October 18 2021
Crops pic

A farmer tends her avocado crop in Njombe Region. PHOTO | FILE

By Rosemary Mirondo
By Gadiosa Lamtey

Dar es Salaam. If you want to make quick money through farming, then you could start thinking of taking up in earnest the cultivation of some crops that are yet to receive the attention they so richly deserve in Tanzania.

The country has so far been blessed with the traditional cash crops of coffee, sisal, cotton, tobacco, tea, cloves and cashew nuts.

But, also, farmers say they are now earning lucrative returns from growing such crops as cocoa, avocado, soybeans, vanilla, grapes, palm oil and sunflower.

The increased earnings are largely due to a rise in demand for the crops at the local and international markets.

For instance, the price of cocoa – which is used to manufacture of chocolates, cocoa butter, etc. – has more than doubled in the past three years.

A farmer currently earns Sh4,964 for a kilogramme of raw cocoa, up from Sh2,000/kg in previous years. Likewise, the price of a kilogramme of avocados has risen from Sh1,600 to Sh2,000.

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Speaking in an exclusive interview with The Citizen recently, the Register of Cooperatives in Morogoro Region, Mr Kenneth Shemdoe, said cocoa prices have risen from Sh2,000 a few years ago to Sh4,964 at a Tanzania Mercantile Exchange (TMX) auction held last week.

“This is very interesting to the farmers who were leaving their cocoa in the field until it was ruined due to the lack of buyers or if they came with a lower price so the farmers were abandoning their crops,” he said.

For instance, when the TMX system first came on the scene, farmers did not trust it. So, they started by selling only 5.4 tonnes of the crop. But, after they saw the price increasing, they next sold 30.1 tonnes at the TMX.

“Today, we had a meeting with the Ward Councillors of those areas who frankly admitted that the TMX system is very good. Also, the middlemen have also agreed to sell their cocoa to the cooperatives because when they send it to Dar es Salaam they sell one kilo at Sh4,200 still transportation costs,” Mr Shemdoe said.

Currently, cocoa is cultivated in Ifakara and Turiani, and using the online communication system, it is possible and easy to get data on the crop.

In a related development, the Eva’s Farm managing director, Ms Irine Madeje, said the farm-gate price of table grapes is Sh3,000 a kilo. But the price at supermarket after being properly packed is up to Sh15,000 a kilo.

The price has improved after farmers started cultivating the table grapes and selling them in supermarkets. Farming has huge potential and people can make money. Unfortunately, the majority know grapes are used only to make wine.

“Grapes are indeed used to make wine. But, they can also be used to make fresh juice, cakes – and also be eaten as a fruit. But all this huge potential has not yet been fully exploited… And the biggest challenge in this is that people do not know how to go about it to start with – including, for example, knowing the right type of soil that is suitable for grapes cultivation,” Ms Madeje said.

She said the government should invest more in research and the production of quality seeds to replace the seeds which are currently being used, and which date back to the colonial era – and do away with importing grape juice for wine making in Tanzania.

For his part, the chairman of the Tanzania Sunflower Processors Association (TSPA), Mr Ringo Iringo, said while production of sunflower in the country has declined due to a number of factors – including heavy rains (which are not good for the crop) and lack of improved seeds – its market prices have nonetheless increased greatly.

“We expect to increase production next year following the government’s strategic plans to improve production of the crop by subsidizing seed prices,” Mr Iringo said.

According to him, the price of the crop per kilo increased from Sh500-900 per kilo in 2019 to Sh1600, last year.

He noted that the government plans to increase production of the crop in view of the huge market potential in Rwanda, Burundi, Zambia, Comoro and D R Congo.

“Also, new markets for the crop have emerged in South Africa and India, and we plan to capitalize on that,” he said.

On the issue of palm, he said the government was currently reviving the crop following there being a huge market potential, and it will now be strategically grown in Mbeya, Morogoro, Tanga and Kigoma.

“Market opportunities for the crop are huge. But we have not been growing hugely because it takes at least five years to mature but with potential for new technology to process the crop, the country intended to capitalize on it.

Also in a related development, the Kigoma Regional Manager of the Small Industries Development Organization (Sido), Mr Gervas Ntahamba, said the annual production of the palm crop currently stands at about 33,640 tonnes, while price of crude palm oil is between Sh20,000-55,000 for 20 litres – “depending on whether it is a lean or pick-up season.

“The price increases or decreases depending on the season – and during low production prices increase,” he said.

For his part, the executive director of the Agriculture Council of Tanzania (ACT), Mr Timothy Mmbaga, said production of sunflower was still very low, at about 200,000 tonnes annually – thus meeting the domestic demand for edible oil by 45 percent.

Noting that the price for sunflower has increased both locally and globally, Mr Mmbaga nonetheless said that the challenge was the price of seeds for farmers, which currently stands at Sh30,000 a kilo. Usually, an average farmer needs seeds worth at least Sh70, 000 to be able to plant crops on a one-acre farm.

“The government has, therefore, come up with a strategic plan to subsidize seeds for farmers – and also produce our improved seeds to grow more and capture the potential markets.

According to him, friendly policies have also encouraged farmers to grow the crop, especially customs duty on imported edible oil being high, therefore expressing optimism that in the next 5-to-10 years, the crop’s production will be huge.

Production of palm oil is still too low, currently standing at 10,000 tonnes annually with more of that having to be imported.

“The problem is that the crop takes at least five years to mature. But, currently, there are experts researching to come up with improved seeds.

Explaining further, he said “the challenge is that, at the moment, contract farming is not being practised fully with farmers opting to side sell their crops when an opportunity arises which does not give them surety of good prices.”

Commenting on the subject-matter, the Cluster and Partnership Manager of the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (Sagcot) Centre Ltd, Tullah Mloge, said data from the Ministry of Agriculture show that a total of 9,000 tonnes of avocados were produced in Tanzania last year.

She also said that avocado prices increased to Sh2000 per kilo last year, up from Sh1600-1800 in the previous year. The crop is in high demand in Europe, Hong Kong, South Africa and Kenya.

“The European market is currently fragile due to the viral global Covid-19 pandemic. But, plans are in place to enter the markets of China and India – and expand the South African market,” Ms Mloge said.

In the case of vanilla, horticultural researcher Dr Daudi Mbongo revealed that vanilla is beneficial if the people are fully educated on how best to grow and take care of it.

“It takes two-to-three years to harvest vanilla, and if you do not have enough knowledge about its cultivation, you cannot grow it successfully.”

Dr Mpoki Sichwele of the Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute (Tari) said 30-to-40-centimeter vanilla sells for Sh4,000-5,000; but the fruit from vanilla is sold at a whopping Sh500,000-Sh850,000 a kilo – up from Sh150,000-to-Sh300,000 five years ago, he said.