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Sisal crop still promises big income for people in the rural

Sisal crop still promises big income for people in the rural

Introduced in 1893 by Dr. Richard Hindorf, a German Agronomist, as a commercial crop, the sisal industry grew to become the most extensive commercial agriculture and primary processing in Central Africa, spreading to Kenya, Mozambique and Angola. Peak production was reached in 1964 when Tanzania alone produced 234,000 tons grown in Tanga, Morogoro, Coast, Kilimanjaro, Arusha, Singida, Iringa, Mwanza, Shinyanga, Mara, Mtwara and Lindi regions.

Sisal played a significant role in the country's economy being the largest foreign exchange earner in Tanzania up to 1970s and the largest employer providing employment to over 1,000,000 permanent and casual workers. It is expected to continue as it still provides a well being for a very large number of people in the country. This is due to the characteristics of the sisal plant itself.

The importance of the crop for the country's economic growth, rural development and provision of employment opportunities, cannot be overstated as the crop is drought resistant and very tolerant to a variety of soils, hence making arid areas productive as well.

Presently, the sisal industry is employing over 100,000 people and is the fourth largest agricultural exporter. During the 1960s and 1970s there was serious development of secondary fibre processing factories producing sisal twines, yarns, ropes, bags, carpets, pulp and paper.

Sisal was and is still also being used in the construction and manufacturing industry for padding, in mattresses and handcrafts. Katani Ltd was formed during the transformation of the economy in Tanzania to a free market seeing new opportunities cropping up after years of product and market research.

Since then the industry has started reviving itself as an emerging market and production had increased to 35,000 tons by 2010 showing an increasing upward trend in production by 54 per cent from 1997 which is continuing to gather momentum. Since before privatization of the Sisal industry under the former Tanzania Sisal Authority (TSA) there has been extensive research into sisal that has been carried on by Katani Ltd which has concluded significant attributes of the sisal plant.

Tanzania’s economy largely depends on the growth of its agricultural sector that accounts for half of the national income and three quarters of the merchandise exports in the country. Approximately 80 per cent of Tanzanians are employed in the agriculture sector. In line with the Government’s Kilimo Kwanza Policy, Mohammed Enterprises Tanzania Limited (MeTL) for example is a major player in the country’s commercial agricultural sector, contributing further to national development.

In 1997 the company invested in the acquisition of a total of 47,000 hectares of sisal farms in different regions of Tanzania namely Tanga, Kilimanjaro, Coast and Morogoro and has successfully revived these farms into active commercial agriculture centres.  Essential infrastructure such as staff housing, labor camps, access roads, schooling and dispensary facilities have been established on all farms. Other requirements such as utility vehicles and farming equipment are regularly replaced on each farm. Generally the company has invested 50bn/- to rehabilitate farms.

‘‘Our agricultural development activities provide employment for more than 5,000 people during the peak season and we have been able to impart skills through our experts on the field to improve the knowledge of the labor force we hire.’’ said Mr. Mamik, head of agriculture division of the company. Apart from the sisal, the company cultivates other major crops like tea and cotton.

From six different plantations in Tanga, Kilimanjaro, Morogoro and Coast regions, MeTL produces approximately 10,000 tons of sisal fiber annually. The group currently holds 10,000 hectares of standing sisal crop, 80 per cent of which are in mature sisal plantations.
‘‘We envisage doubling our land capacity to produce between 16,000 and 20,000 tons of sisal fiber to meet domestic and export demand’’ added Mr.Mamik.

The bulk of fiber produced at the company’s sisal estates is used for value addition by the Group’s sisal bag manufacturing company called TPM (1988) Ltd. TPM is a Morogoro based manufacturing factory. The excess is then mainly exported to markets in the Middle East, Europe, Nigeria and India.

Sisal bags made of natural fiber are biodegradable; they provide aeration for the materials packed in it, and apart from being more durable than their synthetic counterparts, the bags are fragrance-free.  ‘‘At TPM we do not use mineral oil for conditioning the sisal fiber but make use of palm oil which means that our bags are hydro-carbon free and suitable for packing food materials like coffee, beans, cashew nuts, pulses, cocoa, maize, cloves etc’’, said Mr. Seluaraj, General manager of TPM (1998) Ltd.

In an effort to support the Governments initiative to promote the sisal industry TPM has increased production by expanding the process manufacturing time from a single to three shifts daily, employing about 700 people. The bulk of fiber from the estates however, is used in manufacturing of sisal yarns and ropes at the company’s sisal spinning mill called 21st Century Holdings Ltd located in Dar es Salaam which was acquired in the year 2001 to strengthen the Group’s forward integration in the sisal industry.

The factory manufactures a wide range of sisal yarns for a variety of value-added applications including tie ropes, sisal fabric, specialty ropes, polishing cloths and specialty fine yarns for floor coverings. The excess is then mainly exported to markets in the Middle East, Europe, Nigeria and India.

New investment opportunities on the well managed sisal estates for expansion and diversification to other crops in the fallow lands are available. Annual rain-fed food crops and irrigated cash crops can be grown on a commercial scale for domestic value addition and for export. The company’s agriculture division is focused on working to contribute specifically to the national economy through agriculture by implementing Kilimo Kwanza policy.

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Author: SUNDAY NEWS Reporter

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