How green gold transforms Tanzania office bearers into farmers by shores of a lake

One earns up to over $3 million a month


A pawpaw tree

SUNDAY October 20, 2019

By Adam Ihucha

Tranquility News Correspondent 

Many young Tanzanians ignore agriculture once they accomplish their primary, secondary and university studies, as they consider farming to be a preserve for school dropouts.

Nonetheless, horticulture is slowly but surely changing the outlook of educated Tanzanians with a number of employees abandoning their jobs to join the country’s emerging industry.

It sounded like fiction to Dr Charles Majani when he heard for the first time of money growing on trees on the outskirts of the lakeside city of Mwanza in Northern Tanzania only to realise it was a true story.

Pawpaw farming though is at its nascent stage in the Lake Zone, Dr Charles Majani now believes it pays more than cotton or any other traditional cash crop does at least at Nyahingi Village in Nyamagana District, if not in the zone at large.

Tanzania Cotton Board last year named Mwanza as among four cotton giants in the western growing areas, admitting, however, that productivity of the crop has sharply fallen lately, with yields of around 550 kilograms per hectare, just over a quarter of the world average.

Ms Jacqueline Mkindi, the Chief Executive Officer of TAHA Group,an apex member based private sector organisation that advocates for the growth and competitiveness of the horticulture industry in Tanzania. PHOTO | TAHA

“I’m a medical doctor, but I saw the opportunity for pawpaw cultivation. I’m at the initial phase, but come December this year, I will become a millionaire,” Dr Majani, who owns 2.5 acres, explains.

Dr Majani thanks Tanzania Horticultural Association (TAHA) for imparting technical skills on him.

Once a doubting Thomas, the medical doctor is but only one of dozens of farmers embracing cultivation of the new cash crop which is likely to overshadow cotton and other traditional crops in future.

He did not believe the pawpaw story until he visited Magu and Nyamagana districts farmers to see and hear from the horse’s mouth on the cash minting trees.

Smiles, which a growing number of farmers put on all their way to bank halls each week, have actually triggered a green gold rush in the two districts.

A squash demonstration plot at Tengeru Horticultural Research and Training Institute on the outskirts of Arusha, Tanzania. PHOTO | LIBRARY

Pawpaw cultivation is also gaining popularity in other districts of Mwanza as a result of the most profitable cash crop changing farmers’ lives for better.

Farmers at Kisha and Nyahingi villages in Magu and Nyamagana districts, respectively, are upbeat and ready to grab opportunities that come with the maiden production of the cash crop.

Mr Peter Ngongoseki, another farmer based in Magu, a district with easy access to the Lake Victoria waters, harvests up to 15 tonnes of tomatoes and seven others of sweet pepper and cucumber each week.

Mr Ngongoseki, who is one of the Rijk Zwaan Afrisem’s 600 plus trainees, owns 12 acres of vegetables grown in greenhouses with 100-metre length and width each.

“I’m producing for mining companies, local markets, hotels and supermarkets in the Lake Zone and Dar es Salaam,” says one of the pioneer horticultural farmers in Mwanza region.

A joyful couple, which enjoys technical skills from Tanzania Association of Horticulture (TAHA), explains to journalists the secret behind good performance of their tomato farm at Usa River in Arusha, Tanzania. PHOTO | LIBRARY

Mr Ngongoseki introduced the greenhouse technology at Masanza One area situated at Nsolla Village in Magu District.

The Medical Doctor cum Information Technology guru says the local market for fresh produces is enormous and that he and his colleagues are nowhere near to satisfy it.

“I don’t dream of producing for export markets yet because we’re nowhere close to satisfy the hungry local market,” Mr Ngongoseki explains.

A TAHA agronomist came over to test the soil and he advised me straight away to cultivate pawpaw trees. This is how the miracle was unveiled,” – Mr Bernard Makachia, a pioneer pawpaw grower at Kisha Village in Magu District, Mwanza Region, Tanzania.

Mr Bernard Makachia, another pioneer pawpaw grower at Kisha Village in Magu District, earns Sh240,000 (over $105) a week at a market farm gate price of Sh800 ($2.9) per fruit.

The income of Sh7.2 million (about $3,000) a month from 9,000 papaya fruits he harvests at his one-acre farm is a considerable return by African standards.

“My income is guaranteed to last for three consecutive years before I replace the trees with new seedlings,” explains Mr Makachia.

TAHA did not only convince him to grow the cash crop, but also supported him with best farming practices stage by stage.

Tanzania’s Deputy Minister for Agriculture Hussein Bashe (Centre) poses for a picture with Tanzania Association of Horticulture (TAHA) Chief Executive Officer Jacqueline Mkindi and TAHA Business Environment Facilitation Manager Kelvin Remen. PHOTO | TAHA

He used to harvest maize worth barely Sh240,000 (over $105) a year from the one-acre land he now grows pawpaw trees which have turned him into a millionaire in an overnight.

He joined TAHA few years back in his quest for technical advice on an alternative crop that could flourish on a land with all characteristics of a semi-desert.

“A TAHA agronomist came over to test the soil and he advised me straight away to cultivate pawpaw trees. This is how the miracle was unveiled,” he explains.

Thanks to Mr Wenceslaus Joseph, the TAHA expert, for his technical advice; Mr Makachia, who planted 300 seedlings on the one-acre land he owns, is now harvesting 300 papayas a week.

Zanzibar was for many years importing over 80 per cent of fresh food, including horticultural products, from Tanzania Mainland, owing to insufficient production locally. In 2015, TAHA, as a main facilitator, in collaboration with the Zanzibar government and other partners such as Milele Zanzibar Foundation, began promoting production of horticultural products and training farmers in good farming practices. Production of quality vegetable has increased and farmers now export surplus products. PHOTO | TAHA

TAHA assists farmers in adopting new technologies and embracing best horticultural practices, enabling them to get bumper harvests from small pieces of land and to contend with Skills Development Levy, land rent fees and numerous other taxes and levies.

It also supports farmers to address challenges of registration of essential horticultural inputs, including pesticides, fertilizers and biological control agents.

Through its logistic firm — TAHA Fresh Handling Limited, the association absorbs costly and time-consuming cross-border non-tariff barriers to ease the burdens investors in the industry face.

TAHA addresses policy and regulatory hurdles for the industry to thrive. Farmers in the Lake Zone, for instance, had difficulties in accessing input such as pesticides and fertilizers which are crucial for improved production.

A pesticide sold at Sh80,000 ($35) in Kenya was retailed at Sh600,000 ($263) in Mwanza, pushing up production costs and making produces noncompetitive.

“Otherwise, Mwanza is a sleeping giant, given its expansive land and plenty of water from the world’s second largest freshwater body — Lake Victoria,” the TAHA agronomists says.

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