Poverty is a phenomenon that afflicts a large part of Tanzania in the remote villages where more than 80 percent of the population live.
Ironically, in the same areas, a section of people, lead better lives. Some of such people’s incomes surpass, by far, incomes earned by thousands of those living in urban centres.
For such people, with success stories, if you dare tell them to move to a town where you may be living, they may consider you a witch or simply a lunatic considering the better lives the lead in the villages.
Normally, people living along the coastalline are not considered workaholics compared to their counterparts in the hinterland.
But small-scale farmers living in various locations in Makuyuni ward, Korogwe district, have proved the critics wrong.
Inspired by a local company - Katani Limited - a firm which came into being after former Tanzania Sisal Authority (TSA) was privatised in 1998 - the farmers responded to the company’s sensitisation gesture. Accordingly the company formed a small-scale farmers unit, Sisal Smallholders and Outgrowers Scheme (SISO).
Under the scheme, in which five plantations were involved, farmers in the villages concerned as well as their peripherals, were encouraged to plant sisal which was a reliable cash crop.
By then, the government had entered into contractual agreement with Katani Limited whereby machinery, including decorticators were owned by the new company while the land belonged to the government under the management of Tanzania Sisal Board (TSB).
On recognizing and acknowledging the development of the system, the government directed that implementation of the SISO, be a shared responsibility of both parties in order to make it a sustainable venture.
“In fact, it was a deliberate effort by the company to involve the farmers so that they raised their incomes and brought about development among themselves,” says Katani Limited Managing Director Salum Shamte.
Katani Limited, then decided to allocate an hectare each to willing farmers in all the five estates under SISO particularly those living in the villages surrounding the plantations. Others who benefited from the offer, were ex workers of the former parastatal (TSA) and other interested individuals.
It was then that the company found it prudent to enter into a contractual agreement with the farmers. The agreement stipulated that those allocated with the plots would engage in sisal farming for a long period. The contract provided for allocation of farming plots ranging between 6 and 200 hectares.
The first village to enjoy the offer was Mwelya in 1999. This was a pilot project, which after recording success, was stretched to the other four estates in 2003.
A part from the Usambara-Mwelya Estate, others are Hale, Magoma, Magunga and Ngombezi.
At first, only a few years after the plantations went to the hands of the farmers -Katani Limited disbursed a total of 1.2bn/- to five estates in form of loans, according to the firm’s boss.
“The money was dished out specifically to enable the farmers grow sisal," says Shamte.
The firm’s projection is to disburse a total of 4.8bn/-. This will enable the farmers plant and take care of a big chunk of land – as much as 4,680 hectares.
A team of journalists who visited the Usambara-Mwelya plantation, witnessed an ever-green pasture dominating both the low area and hilly part of the vast land.
The Usambara-Mwelya Plantation Chairman, Fredrick Malika, who took the team around the 1,876 hectares estate, said “We thank Katani Limited countless times. They are in fact the ones who convinced us (farmers) to venture in to sisal farming”, he said.
"At first we hesitated. We said, how could we do it when we have no tractors. But eventually, we developed courage and attempted,” said Malika, a retired senior government official.
“We began land clearance, then planted sisal in rows of 20 per hectare as advised by extension officers”.
He said the method most of them used used was allow a farmer who wanted to plant maize to use the hectarage - :that way our crop would grow without weeds because the maize farmer would have to weed his/her crop also”.
With each passing year, the farmers, presently 250 men and 56 women, increased acreage.
According to Malika, 90 percent of the whole area has mature sisal ,while 10 percent – about 100 hectares on hilly areas is awaiting planting any time.
Malika says he possesses six hectares. “When I harvest today and sell the sisal leaves to Katani Limited the company pays me 800,000/- per hectare, so I collect almost 5m/- after all cost deductions by Katani," he boasted, adding that the next round of harvesting is normally made after eight months.
“There should be no cause for worry. Sisal farming has a bright future. Look, the world market price for the crop is now at a staggering sum of 1.8/- per ton of line fibre,” he told the journalists.
“If a hectare of sisal is well taken care of ,it is like somebody has put money in his bank account”, added the chairman who owns 18 hectares.
Another successful farmer, Jumanne Mgaya owns 37 hectares. Mgaya harvests three hectares a month. “I do not in anyway, doubt the future of the crop. It has enhanced my economic power terribly”, said Mgaya, also a retired government official.
Mgaya told the team that sisal can be grown by any farmer regardless of his or her economic status. “You only need courage and facilitation- inputs, lorries etc.” he says.
“I say even the poor can own an acre or two because after planting, he other expenses can be obtained through a loan from our saving and credit cooperative society (SACCOS)”.
On her part, Mariamu Musa, 57, a widow, has nine children. “My husband died in 1991. When Katani Limited allocated the single acre age to us, I cleared the land with my bare hands and planted sisal, “she says.
“The following year, I planted another hectare and the third one the next year”. She says “After five years, I began to harvest the first hectare, that was in 2003 and the price of sisal leaves was only 2,000/- per metre .I harvested 50 metres from the hectare and earned 100,000/-.
“In 2007, the price went up and I earned 400,000/- from an hectare. Now it is 700,000/-.
Says Mariamu “After the end of next year, I shall start receiving earnings from the fourth, fifth and sixth hectares”. “In 1991, I said, my husband has died. How shall I bring up the nine children.But God was on my side. I have educated my children .One of them is a graduate teacher in Dar es Salaam. Another has just completed Form IV. We have a comfortable house,’ reveals Mariamu.
Saida Yusufu is another courageous woman farmer. She says “When the plots were distributed, my husband was still alive. But he died in 2005. He had then harvested twice”.
“In 2006, I added another acreage, then yet another one in 2007. Now I have four hectares”.
Saida says she has four children – one of who is blind and attending school at Korogwe Girls Secondary School. She is in Form II.
“I have no problem with educating o my children. Whenever I am short of money and the child is required to go to school, I simply go to our SACCOs and obtain a loan.”
However, the plantation is faced with numerous challenges. The major one being the capacity of the present decorticator to process the crop harvested almost on daily basis.
“As you can see ,a large part of the plantation’s crop is due for harvesting. The decorticator can no longer handle the volume being delivered there for processing”, said Mgaya ,tipped to be the most successful farmer at Mwelya.
Mwelya-Usambara Plantation Manager, Damson Mselela said Katani Limited were similarly concerned with the challenges facing the farmers.
“Presently, the Mwelya plant is undergoing rehabilitation. It is expected that by June this year, it will be able to join the present one in processing the leaves,” said Mselela.
Mselela said the present decorticator has capacity to process between 100 metres and 150 metres of sisal leaves per day – 100 metres in the morning and 50 metres during night shift.
He said the decorticator’s production capacity is 120 tons per month.The association was registered in 2009, while the SACCOS was formally registered in 2006.
The Katani Limited managing director says the SISO system has been extended to other parts of the country. He mentioned them as Kishapu District in Shinyanga Region.
In Kishapu, Katani Limited ,in collaboration with Oxfam and Tanzania Sisal Board (TSB) ,have introduced sisal farming. A total of 16,500 farmers from various villages have already been indentified, according to Katani Limited boss.
“Already a total of 5000 farmers have joined the project while farmers in Meatu district are preparing their farms for sisal growing.