Politicking kills cotton sector

Cotton production has gone down by almost 32 per cent, due to politics surrounding contract farming scheme that had tremendously pushed up last year output.

Tanzania Cotton Board (TCB) data shows that the production nosedive to 246,000 metric tonnes in this season from 360,000mt of previous season, after farmers failed to twice spray insecticide to the crop as required.

The decline in cotton production has also lowered its contribution to the economy and it is now placed in the fourth position of the leading traditional exports after coffee, cashew nuts and tea. For the time being cotton contributes between 80million US dollars and 100 million dollars to the economy.

TCB acting Director General Gabriel Mwalo says farmers could not buy insecticides as contact farming investors held back the funds for procuring implements. “Farmers managed to spray their crop only once, instead of twice thus reducing the crop yields,” Mr Mwalo said.

He said the investors reached the decision after interference of the programme by politicians who have unexplained vested interest in the sector. The country, according to the Cotton Board, has huge arable land for cultivating cotton in Africa, but it is the least producer in the continent and sells her produce at a discount instead of premium rate due to low quality.

According to information gathered, the government has two choices; to either let politics reign in the multibillion shilling sector or firmly support programme that envisage empowering the cash crop producers. The reason to support the contact farming is simple.

About 14 million Tanzanians, equivalent to roughly 40 per cent of the population are employed in the cotton sub-sector. Tampering with the contract farming in cotton is one living example.

The government, through the support of TGT, had invested heavily in the introduction of contract farming, with a view to increase productivity via extensive use of inputs and extension services. The programme, under pilot basis for three years in Bunda, Musoma Rural and Serengeti districts in Mara Region proved great potential in enriching farmers.

The outcome was great with production shooting up to 360,000mt last year. Convinced of the outcome, the government decided to extend contract farming countrywide in the 2011/2012 farming season. However, although the scheme boosted cotton production as well as the income of the farmers, it spelled doom to some greedy local businessmen who have for years been exploiting the farmers.

Through contract farming produced form Farmers Business Groups (FBCs), associations of around 50 or 60 cotton growers offer reliable network for execution of the programme. Besides guaranteeing credits to individual farmers, FBGs serve as business entities, contracted by ginners to buy cotton from their members on commission.

And that is where the problem originated. Cotton buying is a lucrative, multimillion business by hundreds of agents who hardly know how to grow cotton - tossing the quality in a dustbin while tampering with scales.

Some companies simply oppose contract farming because they are reluctant to put money in the programme that requires heavy investments by buyers to support availability of inputs and extension services.

The TCB acting Director General says in Zimbabwe, for example, a cotton buyer spends almost 250 US dollars (400,000/-) per hectare, but in Tanzania they do not even put 20,000/-.

Last year, the Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives Minister, Christopher Chiza suspended the execution of the programme, pending review of some critical issues. Another issue that lower cotton output is the issue of rain dependency and outdated seed that was in the field since 1991.

Under normal circumstances the seed should not be on the field for more than 10 years. TGT Consultant Ibrahim Seushi said a joint programme at Ukiriguru Research Institute, Mali and TCB have developed a new variety called UKM08, to replace UK91, which has been in the market for over two decades.

Only 30 per cent of cotton produced in Tanzania is processed into clothes and other textile materials, while the remaining 70 per cent is exported as row materials, denying the country a substantial income, according to Mr Seushi. The target is to process 90 per cent of the total output capacity.
Source: Daily News, reported by Abduel Elinaza from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
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