Green-gold rush grips Tanzanians

TANZANIA: A FRESH green-gold rush is rocking pockets of the country, if hundreds of thousands of fortune seekers venturing into high-value fruit farming for environmental health and economic gains, is anything to go by.

Thanks to a champion of the horticultural industry, Tanzania Horticultural Association (TAHA), through the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) supports turning the avocado, marula, and spices value chains into gold rush occupations.

To be precise, TAHA through the SIDA-financed Growing Wealth through Horticulture (GROWTH) project being implemented in six regions in the country, has embarked on a novel initiative to intensify high-value fruit farming, as it seeks to mitigate the effects of climate change, boost income for farmers and enhance nutrition.

The regions benefiting from the GROWTH support are Pwani, Kilimanjaro, Arusha Manyara, Dodoma and Tanga. A rapid assessment done in northern Tanzania comprising Arusha, Manyara and Kilimanjaro where avocado is more favorable, saw the number of small-scale farmers who embraced the butter fruit farming hit 1,993 to date, up from 794 last year, equivalent to 60 per cent upsurge.

The production area under commercial avocado cultivation also jumped from 1003.2 acres to 1,672 acres in the period under review, meaning northern Tanzania’s avocado groves would be sequestering a total of 4,347.2 tons of carbon dioxide annually.

It is scientifically proven that a one-acre avocado grove sequesters up to 2.6 tons of carbon dioxide each year. TAHA’s production lead Mr Gilliard Daniel estimates that avocado production in the Northern Zone would also rise to 20,064 metric tons worth 36.12bn/- by 2027 going by the current price of 1,800/- per kilogramme, up from 12,038.4 metric tons worth 21.67bn/- per annum before GROWTH project.

SIDA’s desires and, indeed, the quest of TAHA is seeing farmers growing their wealth through horticulture while protecting the environment and adapting to and mitigating the impacts of climate change.

The SIDA’s support in climate-smart agricultural technology uptake, modern farming, and access to markets have not only spiced up the industry but also uplifted production and productivity of horticultural crops, making farmers and other players in the value chain smile all the way to banks to stuff up their wallets.

The Executive Associate to the TAHA CEO, Mr Simon Mlay, said the whole idea of the SIDA-funded GROWTH project is to facilitate the horticultural transformation to meet multiple challenges of climate change, food insecurity, malnutrition, poverty and environmental degradation.

“As the data loudly speaks, through the GROWTH project, we aim at increasing competitiveness and sustainability of the horticultural industry, boosting productivity by improving knowledge on efficient and sustainable farming methods, with emphasis on integrating environment, climate change and biodiversity,” Mr Mlay clarifies.

It is understood that the project also intends to increase access to markets for Tanzanian horticultural products and to contribute to advocacy for better policy and business enabling environment for the horticultural industry’s competitiveness and inclusiveness.

Factors driving the growth of the avocado sub-sector include increasing consumer awareness of the health benefits of avocados, rising demand for healthy and organic foods, and the growing popularity of avocado-based dishes in restaurants and cafes.

This growth is directly attributed to TAHA’s efforts in collaboration with the government to promote the sub-sector, and open up new markets for the green-gold, namely China, India, United Arab Emirates (UAE), South Africa and of late, the Nordic countries for Tanzanian-grown avocado, as the country seeks to boost local farmers’ net returns from the butter fruit.

Industry captains say the avocado is among the fastest-growing value chains in the horticulture sector, with a huge potential for overseas markets, given its comparative advantages of two production seasons compared to the global largest producers, namely Mexico, Colombia and Peru.

“Tanzanian-grown avocados are harvested between May and September while the second season is between December and February. This is against the Mexican and Colombian seasons of September to December and September to February, respectively. Peru season is between May and August,” Mr Mlay said.

Nearly 80 per cent of Tanzanian avocado production relies on rainfall, putting the crop on a competitive edge in the wake of global concern that avocado production, specifically in Mexico, carries enormous and untold environmental costs.

According to an academic researcher from the Economic and Research Institute, Mr Manuel Ochoa Ayala, Mexico State of Michoacán uses around 9.5 billion litres of water daily to produce avocado – equivalent to 3,800 Olympic pools – requiring a massive extraction of water from aquifers.

Excessive extraction of water from aquifers is having unexpected consequences, such as causing small earthquakes, Mr Ayala wrote. In contrast, an official study shows that most avocado growers in Tanzania use 63 litres of water to produce 1.0kg, thanks to sufficient rainfall, soils and climatic condition, among other key factors.

In Tanzania, particularly, where the Avocados are produced in the northern and southern highlands, it rains for six months a year. With the support of clay, which retains water, and moderate climate, the soils mulch heavily; and more critical, the application of climate smart irrigation technologies by some largescale farmers also help to save water.

Tanzania’s avocados, mostly produced by smallholder farmers, use less water by far, compared to Peru where their colleagues use about 2,000 litres to produce a 1kg of avocado. Peru gets zero rainfall in a year, and more seriously, the farmers grow avocados in the desert. The Peru soils are sandy, so do not retain water.

“The demand for Tanzanian avocado in the international market is skyrocketing, with attractive prices, hence positioning the country strategically to hook a lion’s market share if the value chain is properly supported and explored,” Mr Mlay adds.

Meanwhile, through the GROWTH project, TAHA is also scaling up the marula fruits cultivation in semi-arid areas in central and northern Tanzania. Mr Mlay says nearly 35,000 seeds of marula have so far been planted at the TAHA center in Tengeru, on the southern slopes of Mount Meru in Arusha, Tanzania, as part of a strategic plan to distribute them to semi-arid areas of Arusha, Dodoma and Kilimanjaro regions during the 2024 rain season.

Marula is a wild crop, and not commonly grown as commercial crop in Tanzania but have significant environmental and commercial value, as it can be used for especially manufacturing of natural cosmetics.

The horticultural champion is committed to see Tanzania becoming the key marula and avocado producer, as part of a grand strategy for countering ripple effects of climate change, boost income for farmers and improve nutrition to the community.

“We’ve so far planted 35,000 seeds of marula at Tengeru area in Arusha, and over 1,000 of them have already germinated,” Mr Giliard Daniel, TAHA’s Production Lead explains.

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