The less known story of Tanzanian spices

The less known story of Tanzanian spices

“ TANZANIAN spices are a gold in a rock” or “our neighbours are taking advantage of our spices” and others, are very common sentiments heard among the sector players in trade chambers.

With an appealing climate and fertile soil the potential for growing these types of crops are far from being fully tapped.

Spices produced in the country includes; cloves, pepper, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, chillies, coriander, lemon grass, nutmeg and vanilla. If 2011 official statistics are anything to go by, Tanzania was able to produce 5,500 tons in that particular year, making a minuscule 0.36 per cent of all the spices traded globally bringing home 38.2 billion US dollars.

With the current impressive trend these figures might have tripled. Coincidentally, as I was going through “The Honourable Company: The history of The English East India Company” by John Keay, I was oblivious that the book is a custodian of an uncanny revelation of events that not only shaped the future of this world, but also was to become a reason as to why so many business rules had to be changed for better.

The trade route, which spanned around 15th and 16th centuries, was mainly between Europe (Portugal, Spain, Netherlands and Britain) and Asia (India, Indonesia, China and Malaysia).

In the course of European ships reaching the Spice Islands in the Asia, other unintended places like Tanzania were affected for good. The following are lessons drawn so far; The overwhelming capacity of spices Queen Elizabeth had to confront other European powers only to get control of spices producing areas in the Asia.

She had to send commanders to lead voyages so London could become a hub of the valuable crops. At one time shareholders of the East Indies Company, a leading spices exporter in Asian continent, were worth of £250 dividend per single share.

It is no small feat to the company operating at a time when almost everything was rudimentary, starting from production, distribution and processing. Free trade didn’t come in a silver platter To many globalists, it is anathema to question the efficacy of free trade, let alone putting in place protectionist measures. Surprisingly, this started just with a letter between two leaders.

In 1602, the prince of Aceh, Indonesia, received a letter from the Queen of England requesting for unhindered multilateral trade of spices. Although this was highly contested with the Spaniards and the Portuguese – the leading competitors of this trade, it was to be accepted by granting the English a house, royal protection, full trading rights and exemption from custom duties.

This was to become a new normal to the rest of the world. But this concept is profoundly overlooked by most of multilateralism sympathizers who generally takes incidences like these as precedence in arguing for Tanzania to open up trading borders is that, this agreement was arrived at after careful analysis of internal capacity to withstand the international whims of global trade competition.

Even those who champions for signing of Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) pact should re-think if that comes from deeper analysis of domestic environment not just because the rest of the world is doing that. On the other note, however, government of Tanzania should fast-track signing of Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCTA) that is still pending on our side.

Not for the sake of flowing with the current, but rather to subscribe to the idea that no nation is self-sufficient, and that as we grow big our domestic market becomes saturated with the products we produce. But again that should take place after careful public sifting of what would beget if our borders would stay open to our neighbouring brothers.

What is more is that, economic diplomacy is a very potent tool to advance a nation’s interest in the world that is becoming highly circumspect of global economic dominance. It is evident that Sultan Ala-udin Shah of Aceh couldn’t grant England easy access if couldn’t be Her Majesty’s charm offensiveness.

The relevancy of Spices Commodity market is one such a very dynamic one. Its performance highly depends on the taste and preferences of the consumers probably more than services market.

The 4 billion US dollars industry stands to get more traction in the future as more people in the world are waking up to the realization that the low – volume high – value products are very important for medicinal, flavour and preservative purposes, applications of which gave reasons for major countries to invest a lot of resources to companies that would come to conquer the rest of the world commodities trade.

Sadly, many of our spices reaches the world market through Kenyan market – which takes a lot of pride for ‘producing’ aromatic products of greater quality. Tanzania stands a better chance of re – routing its trade towards Mombasa and capture the current spice trade pattern by using the above mentioned methods.

Author: Zirack Andrew

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