It’s around 10am, local time, when I met with a 55-year-old man, Ahmed Salum, who is busy pruning his five-acre farm of cashew nuts—the only cash crop in this area since the collapse of the Tanganyika Groundnut Scheme in the early 1950s.
Salum is alone at the entire farm, which is coloured with 10 to 12 metres of cashew trees.
His being alone in the farm is something that caught my interest and I asked him why so?
“I have no money to hire people to do what I am doing. My three children, who used to assist me have left the village, they are in Mtwara town,” he said.
According to him, the last son to move to town left the village a year ago soon after completing his primary education. They have moved in search of greener pastures as agriculture is a challenging venture.
“I am not sure what they are doing there but we’re communicating on a regular basis and sometimes they send me some money,” says Salum, donning black pants with a light blue t-shirt.
Why his sons deserted the village?
Salum recounts that in recent years the village experienced youth migration to urban areas including Mtwara with the belief that in urban centres there is wealth.
“My fear is that almost all manpower is relocating to towns in search of employment as you see cashew nuts are not paying well as production has gone down and the prices are not encouraging,” he says.
The old man says: “In the past, I had ten acres of the crop, but with limited labour force I couldn’t manage to take care of the whole ten acres so I decided to sell.”
Salum is of the view that farming does not attract the young generation.
“It doesn’t have any future to them because it’s overwhelmed with lots of challenges ranging from poor pricing, lack of processing facilities for it to add value and inadequate farm inputs. On top of it rain is not raining as it was two to three decades ago.”
He says: “Cashew nut farming is not given attention as it is the case with other cash crops in terms of subsidies and other services.”
“It is our traditional crop, that’s why you see me and other farmers continue with this farming and the vivid evidence you can see on our houses and entire lives.
We harvest this crop once a year, so for the other days when we’re not harvesting how do we survive,” he queries as he puts together pruned branches of the cashew nut trees.
Is gas economy a threat to cashew nut farming?
According to the National Natural Gas Policy of Tanzania-2013, natural gas can be used to stimulate development and growth of other sectors and sub-sectors of the economy such as agriculture, transport, education, health, mining, commerce, manufacturing, household and electricity.
Salum is aware of all these developments in the gas sector, though he says: “They have nothing to do with our cashew nuts farming.”
On rural-urban migration, the old man says: “This gas thing is confusing more people especially the youth. More people here think that in Mtwara town there is plenty of money…and that’s why more youth prefer to go to the town than staying in our villages.”
Salum who lives in his grass-roofed house says the government has been pledging to bring in more cashew nut processing facilities so that nuts are being added value before getting into local and international markets so that they can attract more foreign exchange and employment.
“But, I also doubt it because some of the factories, which were being privatised and those who took them, are not engaging in processing.”
“These government’s pledges, cannot stop young men and women from going into urban centres,” he says, expressing his fear that the labour force is heading into towns, leaving behind the elderly.
“I am not saying the gas economy is bad, no but these two things were needed to go at par and for this to be realised, practical efforts were highly needed to bring in better incentives that will encourage young Tanzanians to get into farming.”
As it is common to other Tanzanian villages, a 22-year-old young man, Mohamed Achombanga is busy repairing his motorcycle, as he is providing transport services in Nanguruwe village.
He is not thinking of becoming one of the successful farmers in the area rather his dream is to become a successful businessman in one of the urban centres in southern Tanzania.
“Cashew nut farming is not my choice. It’s an activity of the elderly,” confidently Achombanga says, insisting that life in town is easier than that of the village.
Achombanga who is not even sure of how life is easier in town, stresses: “I have been meeting people who left the village some years back and they look different than us. This is what makes me believe that one day I will become somebody.”
According to him, the motorcycle taxi business is just to get a start-up capital for his business, which never mentioned.
“I know there are challenges those who go to town face but with no time they stand and continue with their journey to prosperity.”
Another young man in the area, Jackson Makenika (20) also attests that cashew nut farming is not performing well to the extent of encouraging youth to venture into it.
He cites lack of modern farming tools like tractors and farm inputs and low price as a challenge that ruins the venture as well as discouraging youth to get into it.
“Many of the cashew nut farms are owned and managed by old men, who also try to encourage their children to get into it, but most of the young men who were given cashew nut farms have sold them and used the money to go into urban areas,” he says.
Prisca Kanoga, Nanguruwe Ward agricultural officer is aware of the challenge, saying: “The rural-urban migration trend poses a serious threat to cashew nut farming, as the workforce is diminishing leaving farms under the supervision of old men and women.”
“So, the elderly cannot manage their farms because of age, and this has been making many farms being abandoned and some have turned into bushes, causing another challenge as they have become a home to wild and destructive animals,” the official says.
Kanoga says as local government leaders, they have no mandate to prohibit those youth who leave their villages into urban areas “It is the responsibilities of parents.
They are responsible for involving their children in cashew nut farming and they should also tell them about its benefits.”
Jumanne Mussa, an 18-year-old young man is currently engaged in selling value added cashew nuts in Mtwara town.
He earns between 25,000/- and 45,000/- a day, which he says is bigger than what he was earning from his home village.
Mussa comes from Miule, a remote village of Tandahimba—one of the leading districts in Mtwara Region for growing cashew nuts.
He says there is future in selling value added nuts than growing cashew nuts “it’s too costly and yet its market is not encouraging and that's why rural-urban migration trend will continue because the pushing and pulling factors are still there."
“I am saying this because factors which make youth migrate is still there; farming is not paying as is evident in Mtwara Town and other cities. In urban centres like Mtwara, someone can do any business he/she wants, something which is different in the remote villages.”
Manka Michael who works as a bar attendant in one of the popular bars in the municipality says the number of people seems to be going up compared to the last three years.
Michael, who comes from the northern region of Kilimanjaro, says that there are more people who are coming in the town particularly the youth.
Mtwara Regional Agricultural Officer, Aman Rusake, says the crop production has been improving in recent years and "this is a result of practical strategies, which are in place to make farmers benefit out of farming."
"We are ensuring that farmers get their money after selling their crop as soon as possible, compared to the past, whereby farmers used to wait for months to get their monies," the official says.
He, however, admits that the farming venture is always done by the elderly as young men claim that the farms are owned by old people so they have nothing to do with them.
“…but we’re encouraging people to grow new and improved seedlings of cashew nuts, which mature earlier than those used in the past," he says, citing cashew nut wilting disease as a new threat to the crop development.
Mtwara Regional Commissioner Halima Dendego describes increasing investment opportunities as a reason for more people to flock to the gas-rich region.
“There are more people who are coming in and look for employment opportunities due to increasing investments. And gas discovery has created markets for different goods including cashew nuts. Nowadays, there are many people who solely depend on the nuts to earn their living.”
But, she says that the regional authorities and other players were working hard to ensure that the cash-crop remain stable as it employs a large number of people in the region.
Dendegu describes the gas economy as a catalyst that stimulates other ventures including cashew nuts "so I don't know why some people should fear about it."
What cashew nut researchers say?
Prof Peter Massawe, lead researcher of cashew nut from Naliendele Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) says the current strategies are to ensure that the crop is grown on a wider scale.
“We want to see the crop grown in as far as central Tanzania. We have developed a number of technologies ranging from improved seedlings to agronomical practices.”
Mudhihir Mudhihir, Vice chairman of Cashewnut Board of Tanzania (CBT) points out that the farming venture was progressing well to the extent that the board mulls taking the crop to other parts of the country such as Ruvuma, Morogoro, Dodoma and Singida regions.
The CBT official is optimistic that this year cashew nut production will be more than 150,000 tonnes.
“In the next three years, we’re targeting to increase production from 150,000 to 400,000 tonnes.”
It is estimated that 90 percent of Tanzanian cashew nuts are exported in raw form and most of them end up in India.
In the 2016/2017 harvesting season, cap price for grade 1, will be 1,300/-, and 1,040/- for grade 2.
Tanzania ranks as the eight-largest producer of cashew nuts in the world, and is the continent’s biggest grower after Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire and Guinea-Bissau, according to 2012 statistics from the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO).
Tanzania made significant discoveries of natural gas in 1974 at Songosongo in Lindi Region. In the 1980s more findings were made at Mnazi Bay in Mtwara Region, though its commercial production started a few years ago.
The gas pipeline has been built from Mtwara to the country’s commercial capital Dar es Salaam, where it is used in power generation, industrial and domestic use.
It is estimated that Tanzania has about 55 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of recoverable natural gas reserves off its southern coastline.
The discovery of off-shore natural gas revived fortunes, to the extent that the area has become a magnet, as of now more people are getting into the town looking for business and employment opportunities.