COTTON, or ‘white gold’ as it is commonly known, is one of the historical cash crops in Geita district, where in the past 10 years it was considered as the backbone of the economy of many residents in the district.
In addition to that, despite the history of this noble crop, currently the situation is different as it is clear that cotton is no longer among the major economic pillars for farmers, households and Geita district as a whole.
The evaluation of the cotton harvest and its sales for a decade in Geita district has shown that the fields are full to the end, indicating the fall of cotton farming.
The fall was confirmed by the Geita District Cotton Inspector from the Tanzania Cotton Board (TCB, Mr Ndinda Anthony in an exclusive interview with the Sunday News reporter in Geita region.
Mr Ndinda points out that within a decade (2012-2022), cotton production has dropped by about 85 percent, that means from 20 million kilograms in the 2011/12 season to 3.3 million kilograms in the 2021/22 season.
He explains that among the major factors that contributed to the fall of cotton production is the drop in the price of cotton on the world market, conventional farming and monopolies among Agricultural Marketing Cooperatives Societies (AMCOS).
Mr Ndinda says those are the major factors for many farmers giving up on growing cotton, turning instead to other economic activities, artisanal mining being among them.
Tanzania Cotton Board (TCB) strategies
Discussing strategies to revive cotton farming and productivity in the district, Mr Ndinda says the district in collaboration with TCB focuses on reviving the productivity of 20 million kilograms by 2024/25.
He says the mission will be achieved step by step, where before that the district had planned to raise production by more than 70 percent, from 3.3 million kilograms to 10 million kilograms for the season of 2022/23.
Ndinda further explains that after that they aim to produce 14 million kilograms for the season of 2023/24 and then manage the basics of modern agriculture to achieve the mission of producing 20 million kilograms by 2024/25.
“Those kilograms (20 millions) were the last time achieved in the season of 2011/2012, that’s the last time we produced 20 million kilograms, and it’s our mission that we want to revive such a big production.
“We promote farmers to advance from traditional farming to modern farming, in the sense that they should farm commercially while keeping records at every step,” he says.
He insisted that the strategies will be achieved through TCB’s effective management on distribution and proper use of pesticides and proper guidelines for farmers from planting to appropriate harvest and storages.
He says that for the season 2022/23, the district aims to cultivate 40,000 hectares and the implementation has been reached by 88 percent, where up to date approximately 35,000 hectares have been cultivated in the district.
“Farms are well on their way, and this is the season of insects, so we keep providing education on pests control, the correct use of insecticides, sprinklers and the appropriate mixing of pesticides.
“We also reach out to the farmers to educate them on the cleanliness of the fields, in the sense of advising them on the right time to weed the weeds when they germinate, the main goal is to revive productivity.
“I suggest farmers always visit their fields, make checkups on the presence of insects and spray insecticides according to the type of insects present,” he further said.
Mr Ndinda emphasizes that the government through TCB is working hard to improve access to fertilizers for cotton farmers to overcome existing challenges to cotton production.
Geita Cooperative Union (GCU) strategies.
The manager of the Geita Cooperative Union (GCU), Mr Venance Musiba assures of friendly services to farmers to facilitate the focused production goals.
“We started ensuring that our farmers have full access to fertilizer, insecticides and pesticides. Because researchers have approved high decline in the soil.
“This farming season we have distributed 1,280 bags of fertilizers with government subsidy, in the sense that it has a lower price than what farmers used to buy.
“When we got this government subsidy opportunity, we thought it would be good to buy the fertilizer on a large scale so that we can supply it to our farmers at a discounted price,” he said.
Mr Musiba says GCU is working to strengthen both proper access and use of the recommended insecticides for farmers to produce cotton not only in high quantity but also in higher quality.
“We, together with other neighboring cooperatives, have been able to ensure that the cost of pesticides is included in the price structure.
“A farmer needs to go to the farm and take pesticides according to the hectare he or she cultivated, this has encouraged the cotton farming for this season,” he says.
Geita District Commissioner, Mr Colnery Magembe speaking at the annual session of the GCU, directed the cooperative leaders to stand firm to raise cotton farming.
He said cooperatives have a great chance to help the government achieve the mission and vision of making the cotton crop among the commercial crops in the lake zone as it used to be ten years back.
“It is the responsibility of all of us who are cooperative members to strengthen and promote cultivation and production of cotton crops. Imagine all the stores at Kasamwa factory we see now are empty, they were full of cotton,” he said.
He says that GCU must reconsider how to revive the Kasamwa cotton factory, which is one of the biggest cotton factories in the lake zone.
“Since Tanzania gained independence, our leaders have been saying that agriculture is the backbone of the Tanzanian economy, to achieve this, agriculture must be productive. Local farming is outdated.
“Let’s go to productive farming, let’s go to fertilized farming, let’s go to insecticides farming as we are directed by agricultural officers.
“That’s when we’ll get rid of poor productivity, that’s when we’ll reach our mission, we’ll revive production from family level to district level,” he said.
Cotton stakeholder’s consultation
The Member of Parliament for Geita town council, Mr Costantine Kanyasu says the essence of the downfall of cotton farming and productivity in Geita district is lack of vitality among cooperatives.
“People have stopped cultivating cotton for many reasons, first of all the farming inputs are very late in arriving. In December 2022, I made an official visit to some localities, on my arrival people asked me for fertilizers, it was not there.
“Second, there has also been great confusion over the appropriate seed. By 2020, people incurred the cost of cultivating cotton in Ihanamilo and Ikulwa counties, the cotton grew but did not produce.
“The third reason is lack of reliable markets, because people want to grow cash crops that they are sure of harvests and sales,” he said.
Mr Kanyasu advises the government to come up with solid strategies to end the challenges and invest in cultivation of the cotton crop so that the efforts to revive the crop can be successful.
He also advises agricultural officials to be active throughout the year without waiting for the harvest season only.
“We want to taste our agricultural officials’ viability from farming to production, where they have gone and how their efforts are productive to farmers,” Kanyasu insists.
The best cotton farmer for the year 2022 from the village of Nyasalala, Bukondo ward in the Geita district, Kusekwa Safari says for 2022, he cultivated two hectares and managed to harvest 1289 kilos per hectare, which is equal to a total of 2,578 kilograms.
He says that for this farming season, he has cultivated three hectares of cotton and expects to harvest up to 1500 kilos of cotton per hectare.
Kusekwa advises the government to raise its efforts in managing the distribution of fertilizers, quality seeds and managing the cotton market by involving the cotton farmers and stakeholders.yoj