Tanzania mulls over revamping banana yields as investors hurry down to buy the precious fruits

A national forum to chart out strategies for the crop's growth next month

TUESDAY October 5, 2021

A traditional Haya house in a banana farm at Kiilima, Bukoba District, Kagera Region, Tanzania. PHOTO | ANTS OF AFRICA

By Joe Lihundi

Tranquility News Reporter, Arusha, Tanzania

Tanzania envisages tapping into banana crops to get a lion’s share of $4.3 billion worth of Africa’s annual banana export value.

Key stakeholders in the sub-sector are busy charting out plans to spur a large-scale production, as the country seeks to meet its domestic consumption and export.

Tanzania and Uganda are among key producers of banana volume in Africa, with millions of smallholder farmers relying on the crop for food and income security.

The minister for Agriculture, Professor Adolf Mkenda, told a meeting of the banana crop stakeholders in Moshi, Kilimanjaro Region, recently that plans to unleash the potential for the crop for commercial purposes were underway.

Professor Mkenda said the government had planned to convene a national banana forum between the end of November and the beginning of December this year to devise a strategy for the promotion of the crop.

The Tanzania’s Minister For Agriculture, Professor Adolf Mkenda (Seated Centre), poses for a picture with key stakeholders in the country’s banana industry. Seated from left are TAHA Group Board Chairman, Mr Zebadia Moshi, TAHA Group CEO, Dr Jacqueline Mkindi, Permanent Secretary in the President Office (Regional Administration and Local Government Authorities), Prof Riziki Shemdoe, and Parliament’s  Budget Committee Chairman, Mr Sillo Baran, who doubles as a Member of Parliament for Babati Rural. Standing fourth from right is the Akida Group official, Dr Promise Isaac, and Twiga Foods Limited Chief Operations Manager, Mr Kikonde Mwatela. PHOTO | JOE LIHUNDI

However, the market could not wait for the national forum, as two international firms with keen interest in buying the crop in the Northern Zone have already arrived.

“I proposed to them that they should begin buying bananas in Region, a leading region in the production of the crop countrywide, but they insisted on buying in the Northern Zone because it is situated close to Mombasa Port,” the minister said.

He was optimistic, nonetheless, that Kagera Region would definitely come into the picture when the ongoing construction of the standard gauge railway is accomplished.

The government is also considering buying boats equipped with cold storage facilities to transport bananas from the region to Kisumu Port in Kenya, he added.

The minister said painstaking efforts of stakeholders in the banana industry to unlock the market had attracted the international companies dealing in fruits to invest in the country.

“Akida Group and Twiga Foods Limited, have arrived with multi-billion-dollar capital, technology, a wide range of skills and a huge market to unleash the potential for the banana industry,” the minister said.

The Tanzania’s Minister for Agriculture, Prof Adolf Mkenda (Centre), visits pavilions during an exhibition held on the sidelines of the Northern Zone banana stakeholders’ meeting at the Lutheran Uhuru Conference Centre in Moshi Municipality, Kilimanjaro Region, recently. Looking on is the TAHA Group Board Chairman, Mr Zebadia Moshi. PHOTO | TAHA GROUP

Akida is a subsidiary of ATB- market LLC, one of the leading retail trade companies in Ukraine with over 1,500 supermarket chains and over 15,000 employees.

Akida, a newly registered firm in Tanzania, intends to leverage on experiences from its existing business ties with Latin America, Western Europe and West Africa through its parent company based in Dnipro, Ukraine.

Twiga has tapped into Kenya’s $29 billion worth informal retail food market and is now intending to expand to Tanzania.

Twiga distributes 100 tonnes of fresh fruits and vegetables across Nairobi, Nakuru, Eldoret and Kisumu daily and the business is poised to grow to 550 tonnes come January 2022.

To begin with, Akida plans to export 10 containers of cavendish bananas each month to meet growing demands of supermarket chains overseas.

Industrial banana beer is also produced, but it captures a smaller market share than the other types of bottled beers in urban areas. PHOTO | PROMUSA

With a facility capable of ripening 150 tonnes of banana daily in Kenya, Twiga also intends to export 100 tonnes of the fruits, the firm’s chief operations manager, Mr Kikonde Mwatela, said.

“We’re talking with TAHA Group to assist us in exporting 70 tonnes of bananas by December,” said the Akida Group official, Dr Promise Isaac.

Dr Isaac told the banana stakeholders that in addition to establishing a trading platform for the export of bananas, his firm intended to join the Economic Processing Zone and to embark on local processing, packaging and packing of the fruits.

“Our hope is that through our operations and involvement in the Tanzanian ecosystem, we will effect positive changes and cause a ripple effect that will impact families, businesses, communities, regions, the entire nation and hopefully the entire continent,” he explained.

Dr Jacqueline Mkindi, the TAHA Group Chief Executive Officer, allayed the fear of international companies to invest in Tanzania, saying the Group had in collaboration with the government ironed out a myriad of hiccups to create a friendly business environment.

A youth carries bananas to market in Kagera Region, Tanzania. PHOTO | TRIP ADVISOR

“About 50 policy and legal challenges have been addressed to allow the horticultural industry to thrive. Taha Group has established a transport and logistics company — Taha Fresh Handling Limited,” said Dr Mkindi, adding:

“The Group has also established a local conformity assessment body — Greencert — for inspections, certifications and training services on local, regional and international standards systems and has developed a banana commercialisation strategy.”

Professor Riziki Shemdoe, the permanent secretary in the President’s Office (Ministry of Regional Administration and Local Government Authorities), directed the local authorities to immediately put up banana collection centres.

“Agricultural experts should liaise with Taha, researchers and all other stakeholders in the private sector to strengthen provision of extension services to farmers,” added Prof Shemdoe. He believed the crop would go a long way in boosting local authorities’ revenue through levies.

The TAHA Group Board Chairman, Mr Zebadia Moshi, attributed productivity in agriculture to the presence of expertise and farm management.

Officials collect data from Distinctive Uniformity and Stability Trial before approval for release of hybrids. Tanzania officially released four new, improved hybrids of the important staple cooking banana, “matooke”. The hybrids are resistant to important pests and diseases ravaging the traditional varieties that millions of farmers across the country grow. PHOTO | MPOKI TARI

“If the government is to take agriculture, which is touted as the backbone of the country’s economy, to the next level, it has to recruit as many experts as possible, especially in areas of identifying quality seeds and lucrative markets,” he explained.

Data from the National Bureau of Statistics show over 950,000 farmers’ households throughout Tanzania engage in banana production.

And FAOSTAT estimates about 500,000 hectares, equivalent to 5 per cent of Tanzania’s 8.8 million hectares of arable land, is under banana cultivation.

Farmers throughout Tanzania cultivate the fruit available throughout the year in small farms ranging from 0.5 to two hectares.

Major banana growing regions in the country with their percentage in brackets are Kagera (50), Kilimanjaro (18) and Mbeya (11). Tanga, Kigoma, Morogoro and Ruvuma though have high potential for growing the crop, they produce barely 4 per cent, 3 per cent, 1 per cent and 1 per cent, respectively.

New banana varieties were introduced in Kagera Region, Tanzania, and farmers were trained in technical management as well as marketing skills to improve the livelihoods of banana farmers in the region. Banana bunches are now twice as big and farmers are selling the surplus to other regions in and even abroad. PHOTO | DIPLOMATIE BELGIUM

Official data from the Ministry of Agriculture indicates Tanzania’s banana production stands at 3.7 million tonnes a year.

“Other countries harvest between 60 tonnes and 70 tonnes per hectare, we’re not even close to this yet,” lamented Prof Mkenda. Banana yield in Tanzania stands at only 8.4 tonnes per hectare.

Dr Mpoki Shimwela, the crop lead researcher in the Ministry of Agriculture estimates that 95 per cent of all bananas are consumed fresh while processed bananas account for only 5 per cent.

Bananas are mostly processed into gins, beers, wines, juices, crisps, and flour.

Revenue generated from trade in bananas plays an important role with regards to the food import bill of producing countries.

Export revenue from bananas, for example, covered 40 per cent of Costa Rica’s food import bill and 27 per cent of Guatemala’s in 2014.

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