Tanzania's onion farmers target EAC market

Onion farmers and brokers in Singida will soon undergo training on proper packaging of the commodity for export to East African Community (EAC) countries.

The Regional Commissioner (RC), Parseko Kone told the ‘Daily News’ over the phone from Singida that in a bid to tame excessive exploitation being done by middlemen from neighbouring countries, local farmers and brokers would be trained in a programme under the Small Industries Development Organisation (SIDO).

“The problem of foreign middlemen exploiting smallholder onion farmers is very long, it has taken over a decade now but we are now seeking to stop this once and for all,” said Mr Kone who was responding to allegation that middlemen from Burundi, Kenya and Uganda have pitched camp in rural Singida buying the commodity at throw away farm gate prices.

Kone said although the reports of widespread illegal buying of the commodity by foreign middlemen are exaggerated, there are still such elements operating on the ground.

“I called district commissioners whose areas are traditional onion producers and none has confirmed of any cases of illegal foreigners in their areas, it may be true that they are there but it’s not widespread as reported,” he stressed.

The media reported recently that foreign middlemen were buying the commodity right from farms at between 1,000/- and 1,500/- a bucket which sells at between 2,000/- and 2,500 at Singida municipal market.

“Such a bucket fetches up to 5,000/- in Dar es Salaam and up to 20 US dollars across the border in Nairobi,” said Erick Mamuya, a local commodity dealer based in Singida municipality.

He said because the foreigners were going to farms, local businessmen and farmers were losing out. “These foreigners don’t pay cess, dictate farm gate prices to farmers and smuggle the commodity abroad to Bujumbura, Kampala and Nairobi,” Mr Mamuya said.

He urged authorities to reign in the foreign middlemen and direct them to get the commodity from the municipal market.

‘Daily News’ Editor who visited the central region recently wrote in an opinion piece that foreigners are indiscriminately buying onions from helpless smallholder farmers.

“A five litre container of onions was selling at 1,000/-, the price I found very cheap compared to Dar es Salaam where we buy the same lot for an average of 4,000/- to 5,000/- depending on where one goes for shopping,” wrote Deo Mushi.

Mr Mushi said his impromptu survey in rural Singida established that over 90 per cent of the traders he found on the ground were Kenyans, Ugandans, Burundians and Rwandese.

“At Mtinko area I found some Kenyans women who had been camping at the area for two weeks, buying onions that had not been harvested,” Mushi argued.

According to Tanzania Agriculture Sample Census of 2003 onions are second to tomatoes as the most widely cultivated vegetable.

The census data indicated that of the over 72,000 hectares of vegetable crops cultivated, 31,913ha was tomatoes followed by onions with 10,803ha per annum.
Source: Daily News, reported by Finnigan Wa Simbeye, from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
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