- Published on Wednesday, 26 June 2013 02:31
- Written by Karl Lyimo
- Hits: 1241
WHEN I hear or read about ‘traditional exports’ from Tanzania, my mental faculties almost instinctively wrap themselves around two agricultural crops: Sisal and coffee.
(There indeed are other agricultural exports as well, including cotton, cashews, tobacco and pyrethrum, to name but only the few that readily come to mind...)
I deliberately come out with sisal and coffee on the spur of the moment if only because I’m somewhat familiar with them than I’m with the other ‘also-rans!’
I happen (I had no personal choice in this) to come from the slopes of the world-famous Mount Kilimanjaro, where coffee has been the mainstay of the regional and household economies for donkey’s years...
And sisal, the mainstay of what was then ‘Tanga Province’ under colonial administration, was the mainstay of that region’s economy for decades. Alas, it no longer is... Sisal was on the tongues and lips of teachers and students in the years up to the early 1960s as the country’s principal export item.
Tanzania exported 234,000 tonnes of sisal-fibre in 1964, the highest ever. Annual sisal exports today fluctuate around 40-50 thousand tonnes, having ‘risen’ from the lowest figure of 20,485 tonnes in 2000!
This lucubration was triggered by a recent news report that, if Tanzania takes the appropriate measures to revamp the sisal sub-sector in earnest in the next four-to-five years, the country could once again be the world’s leader in the sisal stakes.
Boy! That’s according to the Tanzania Sisal Board when addressing members of the Fourth Estate of the Realm (read ‘The Press’) at Tangamano Grounds during the first International Trade Exhibition staged in Tanga in May this year. (See ‘Mkakati mpya waibuliwa kunusuru mkonge,’ m-Tanzania: May 24, 2013).
As it is ― and despite the lowly production rate which is about five times lower than the 1964 peak production ― Tanzania is reportedly the world’s Number Two sisal producer, playing second fiddle to Brazil! In that regard, Tanzania exported a total of 35,000 tonnes of sisal fibre and sisal products in 2012.
Now, if the World’s Number Two can only export a relatively measly 35,000 tonnes of sisal a year, what does that portend for the future of the sub-sector? Whither is the country’s domestic sisal industry, pray?
In that regard, TSB urges players in the sub-sector to revive hitherto neglected sisal farms, bring more acreage under cultivation and generally improve productivity in terms of quality and quantities. Fair enough... But, where did we hear something along similar lines recently?
Yes... Towards the end of the year 2011, the fiery Member of Parliament for Kigoma North, Zitto Kabwe, revealed a plan to make '2012 Sisal Year for Tanzania' as part of a campaign to promote the commodity. I’m still trying to find out exactly what happened in that respect more than a year-and-a-half after that ‘revelation!’
Perhaps not to be outdone in the promotional (albeit wishful) stakes is the country’s Sisal Board itself... According to the Govt. ki-Swahili daily ‘HabariLeo’ edition of Nov. 23, 2011, the Board also had/has ‘plans' to riaise sisal production to 1,942,012.38 tonnes (to the last decimal point?) by the year 2060...!
Is this a cruel joke on Tanzanians ― or just another wish which ― if wishes were horses ― even beggars would ride? I ask you! Anyway, not many of us who're reading this Lucubration will be around to pass Judgment then!
The 64,000-dollar question still remains: whither is Tanzania’s sisal indusrty when it comes to clarion calls for revamping same? Admittedly, the sub-sector has numerous private operators, including small-holder and large-scale (plantation) farmers.
It’s estimated that around 66% of all sisal farms and plantations are located in Tanga Region. 82,328 out of the 146,708 tonnes of the sisal produced countrywide in the years from 2007 to 2011 came from Tanga: 56.11% of the total! The sub-sector also has manufacturers who produce assorted sisal goods.
Unfortunately, however, Tanzania continues to import substitutes at great cost in scarce foreign exchange, including such mundane items as packing (gunny) bags and cordage made from jute, hemp, etc.
As already noted herein above, not that many of us will be around in 47 years hence to find out whether or not Tanzania will produce the 1,942,012.38 tonnes of sisal which the Board dreams of...