SATURDAY April 1, 2023
By John Bwire
The Tranquility News Correspondent, Tanzania
“We call it black gold, considering that we’re the only region in the entire Great Lakes region of Eastern Africa that cultivates grapes,” says Archard Kato, vine expert and owner of Alko Vintages Winery of Dodoma, the Capital of Tanzania.
But he hastens to reveal that not everybody realises that through engaging in the grapes value chain, families can lead better livelihoods. He wishes that many people owned vineyards, which once established, can service families for almost half a century.
Having been in the industry for over 30 years, witnessing the decline of the crop together with the government owned pioneer wineries in the late 1970s and early 1980s to late 1990s, his word carries a lot of sense.
In the 1970s through to late 1990s, farming of grapes had reached about 90 villages, but the number went down to 23 villages after the collapse of the government-owned Dodoma Wine Company (DOWICO).
“Subsequently, farmers lost income and poverty at family level increased. They could not afford inputs. They were left with only one market for their products: Sale of grapes to consumers of fruits and not to wine producers.
This was a small market, confined mainly to local consumers, thereby pushing down the production of grapes, as farmers could not sell all their crop.
“The most affected were farmers of white grapes, as the fruits perish quickly after they have been harvested,” says Kato.
A bold entrepreneur, Kato notes that the demise of DOWICO, and subsequent other wineries that had come up, was a blessing in disguise, as it brought ample opportunities for taking advantage of, for both grapes farmers and wine producing companies.
“We started buying grapes in the early 2000s from farmers to meet our needs but also to raise the status of grapes farming to the level of 1970s.
“We had to work with farmers to ensure we get enough and quality grapes. We provided loans for farm inputs to improve their farms and ultimately produce quality grapes,” says Kato.
Close to 20 years in the grapes industry, Alko Vintages is a big name in Dodoma, which has transactions amounting to billions of shillings, prompting awards of recognition from Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA) Dodoma Region for emerging best overall tax payer for 2021/2022.
But the going has not been all roses. Alko Vintages’ early attempts to lend individual farmers to improve their farms failed because loan servicing proved difficult to some.
He says: “The new strategy was born out of challenges we had faced in lending individual farmers. This time we discussed to convince them to organise themselves into small groups which would stand a better chance for securing big loans from financial institutions so that they may increase production of quality grapes.
“This would also help them to increase incomes than what they could make as individuals. Since 2019, 14 such groups have been registered with Dodoma City Council. The groups comprise 605 members who sold to us 2,800 tonnes of grapes valued at Sh3.5 billion (over$1.5 million) from July to September 2022. This is about 85 per cent of 3,300 tonnes of grapes our company processed in 2022.”
Two years ago, the Government of the United Republic of Tanzania announced that grapes, sunflower, sisal and palm oil were part of strategic crops whose production would be revamped through their respective agricultural sectors to push for quantity and quality and to yield more earnings for the general wellbeing of the farmers and the national economy.
According to Kato, the announcement came at a time when they were taking measures to become one of the leading producers of wine in the country.
“We were also set to capture the international market of wine, and particularly bulk wine. We want to expand our business beyond Tanzania’s borders to include Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya where there is good market for wine and raw grape products. We also plan to sell our products to Zambia and China, and will soon gauge the market in the US.
We thus support the government’s intention and we challenge individuals to make good use of available opportunities in the wine value chain and in the actual production of wine.
“As part of these efforts, we have been in contact with Bacchus Africa, a South African company that distributes small, medium and big winery machines, so that even small farmers can produce wine, if they so wish, now that the machines are available within the country.
As a follow-up on her word of strategising grapes production, Tanzania’s Minister for Agriculture Hussein Bashe, says the government will this year commission a big winery in Dodoma to cater for an envisaged increase of grapes production.
The factory will supplement such existing facilities, currently 15, comprising three large-scale, three medium and nine small-scale ones. Offing too is a new company which will be producing grape juice.
Sources show that grapes were introduced in Kondoa District, Dodoma Region, Tanzania, by Catholic Ghost Fathers Missionaries in 1938. However, formal farming was to wait till 1963 when four acres were cultivated at Isanga Prison also in the region.
Later, experiments of grapes farming were taken to villages of Mpunguzi, Msalato, Nala, Nkulabi, Mundemu, Mvumi, Hombolo and Chinangali. The villages continue to be hubs of grapes farming and wine production today.
The sustainability of the crop has been largely due to Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute – Makutupora (TARI Makutupora). Established in 1979, the institute has been conducting researches of all brands of grapes that make names in the market, like the famous Makutupora Red, out of which all the red sweet and dry wines are squeezed from, raisins and table grapes.
Several challenges face the grapes industry: Bank loans, market competition from foreign wines, packaging and export standards for bulk wine.
Nickonia Mwambene, Tanzania Bureau of Standards (TBA) Manager for Central Zone, which also caters for Dodoma, says any person in need of exporting bulk wine is welcome to pay a visit or write to TBS as to the standards needed to where the consignment is heading to.
“They should remember that TBS does not look for markets. We help in sourcing the standards requirement of the host market. We are mandated to communicate with receiving countries as to what standards are set. Then we advise our exporters of the same.
“In fact, we already have exporters who are doing businesses in countries like China. They came to us and we advised them accordingly. They are now in business,” he says.
Packaging has been an agenda for wine makers for some time now. The problem is that many wine producers do not command capital for sourcing bottles in quantities to match their wine production. Adding to their chagrin, is the fact that imported bottles from South Africa, China or Italy are expensive, as they attract hefty exercise duties.
Locally, bottles can be sourced from Kioo Limited, a Dar es Salaam-based factory that produces bottles for East, parts of North and Southern African countries.
“We have had protracted talks with wine producers in Tanzania. They enquired if we can make bottles for them. They wanted a 750 ml bottle of same colour. We do not have such a mould.
“To acquire one, we would need a capital close to $50,000. If they came with the amount, we would certainly proceed and have a mould in place.
“As we stand, we cannot commit such an amount without the assurance of the wine producers. We heard they were talking to authorities, but it has been a while now, we haven’t heard from them,” says Eliena Mshana, Head of Marketing, Kioo LimitedΩ