Contract cotton farming introduced as a pilot scheme in Mara Region in 2010/2011 season and extended to the other regions growing the crop in the western part of the country was conceived by the government to boost production and improve stakeholders’ earnings.
Over 16 million people depend on cotton farming in Tanzania, slightly more than a third of the population, thus the government efforts to upgrade the sector and increase production.
In the scheme, farmers enter into contracts with companies who provide them with pesticides, seeds and fertilizer on loan and pay for extension officers to help them with knowledge.
The loans are to be repaid after the farmers sell their produce to the same companies who advanced them the input loans. This arrangement was supposed to enable the farmers increase yields, standardise the produce and provide a guaranteed market for the crop. However some farmers, have been complaining, claiming that they were actually losing money through the arrangement.
Cotton growers in Mwanza have claimed that what they are reaping from the arrangement is not even close to what they expected. They are talking of late delivery of inputs, some of which they claim are sub-standard and cheating at the weighing centres.
These smallholder farmers in the Lake Zone are not the only ones under contract farming. Vegetable growers in Lushoto and Korogwe districts in Tanga, have also joined this arrangement hoping to reap more than they had in the past and unlike the case of cotton growers under contract farming, vegetable growers under the same arrangement in Tanga claim to have benefited a great deal, compared to what they used to reap before.
It is our expectation that the government will objectively study why the arrangement is apparently working in one area and raising complaints in the other, so as to remove any hitches that could derail the otherwise positive scheme.
We say so aware that the issue is sensitive as it involves the livelihoods of over 16 million people, not to mention the larger national economy.
Government leaders have been encouraging smallholder farmers to get involved in this type of arrangement, pointing that done efficiently it could increase their income and improve their living standards.
At the same time, most cotton growers in the Lake Zone blame their loses on the agents to whom they get into contracts with.
The questions that must be answered is whether each of the parties are fulfilling their contracts to the letter. Checks must be made to ascertain that the fertilizer was actually delivered in time; whether it was up to the quality expected to deliver higher crop yields; whether the extension officers were on hand to guide farmers on applications.
We say so aware that there is a story running in this edition, which points to a fake fertiliser racket quickly taking root in the country and which we feel if not nipped in the bud, will have the country fighting an uphill battle in turning around our agriculture.
Too much effort and resources have gone into taking this crucial sector to the next level of growth to be left to a few greedy racketeers to wreck it.