Appeals for changes in the ownership of farms still officially under the practically defunct Tanzania Sisal Authority (TSA) but effectively abandoned so that they could be used for other activities have resurfaced.
This time around stakeholders in Tanga Region, where five of the 12 farms are located, have asked the government to revoke TSA’s certificate of land ownership and have the same used for farming crops other than sisal and establishing industries.
They said at a meeting on the development of sisal held in Tanga recently that it was important for the government to hand over to them the farm, which have lain fallow for close to 30 years.
“We urge President Jakaya Kikwete to rescind the land title deeds to enable us to secure the abandoned farms for agricultural activities,” one of them was quoted as saying.
This is not the first time the issue of abandoned TSA farms is raised by stakeholders and investors.
The demand for resurrecting the 30,006-hectare farms into active business entities was first raised in the mid-1980s by Founding President Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere, mainly in a move meant to strengthen Ujamaa villages and the national economy.
Mwalimu directed that abandoned TSA sisal estates be turned over to villages for use in growing food and cash crops, telling regional authorities not to be ashamed of handing over badly managed estates to capable private firms.
“We nationalised sisal estates, but now it appears that we have failed to manage them. It is not a bad idea to hand them over to private firms with the ability to run them,” Mwalimu stated.
It is well understood that sisal, whose production was put at about 220,000 tonnes per year upon nationalisation in 1967, was grown on fertile land in Tanga and Morogoro regions. However, until the mid-1980s when production dwindled to below 66,000 tonnes, these farms were abandoned and eventually degenerated into bushes.
Given the decline and the failure by TSA to manage the farms, there are only two options regarding the future of the respective land. One is to revive TSA, which is all but defunct, and empower it to resurrect its farms and run them.
Unfortunately this possibility appears far fetched because the authority itself is understood to be crumbling under the weight of debts, including a hefty amount of money in workers’ salary arrears.
The other option is to take a cue from the wise advice Mwalimu Nyerere gave some three decades ago and hand over all non-performing farms to surrounding villages or companies capable of running them better.
The problem is that the all-important farm title deeds are still in the hands of TSA and to have the farms turned active would mean selling them outright to interested buyers or having the title deeds revoked.
Whichever option the government picks, the issue is that the land – which happens to be most fertile – needs to be put to useful purpose.
In the circumstances, there is no reason the government should dillydally on the measures to take for the benefit of the nation.