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Expert Calls for Irrigation to Increase Tea Production in Tanzania

Much as the country may miss its initial tea production estimate by 8.6 per cent this year because of drought, expert’s advice that the country needs to put irrigation schemes in the out growers’ farms to boost output.

Tanzania is the fourth largest tea producer in Africa.

However, the Tea Board of Tanzania wories that this year’s production may drop to 32,000 metric tons in the year through June, compared with the prior 35,000-tonne estimate due to late rains.However, the Tea Research Institute of Tanzania research director Emmanuel Simbua, was of the view that laying irrigation infrastructure to tea out growers, who produce 50 per cent of the total crop output, would country’s production significantly.

“We can only avoid the impact of drought, if the government intervenes by putting irrigation systems to out-growers and help them boost tea output,” he told The Citizen on Saturday in a telephone interview.In Tanzania, about 500 hectares of tea farms are under irrigation, making it the largest tea irrigated area in the world.

However, such schemes are only for the large plantations leaving small farmers to feel the impact of unreliable rains.

Output is just 1,500 tonnes short of the reduced goal, he said. Farmers grew 33,000 tonnes of the leaves in the prior year, board figures show.

“This season the weather has not been very good, especially since September,” the director general of Tanzania Tea Board Mathias Assenga said. “We cannot achieve 35,000 tonnes, but 32,000 tonnes, and we are now remaining with a little volume to achieve this.”

Tanzanian tea is black tea characterized by a strong and fruity flavor.The country exported 28,064 tonnes of the leaves in the 2009-10 season worth about $57 million, according to the board.

Agriculture generates more than 40 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, the CIA World Factbook shows. The board is trying to encourage farmers to introduce the crop to areas bordering Kenya and to use more fertilisers.

“Production by some estates will be a little bit up because of increased care, and volumes from Usambara in the north will improve because of a replanting programme,” said Assenga.

Still, output in the coming 2011-12 year may be 35,000 tons, 3 percent lower than the March 11 forecast of 36,000 tons, because of adverse weather, he said. Wider planting and improved field management may raise production from the current period, he said.

The March projection for the next season’s output would be 18 percent lower than the 44,000-tonne target in 2008, Assenga said, citing lower-than-anticipated planting and adverse weather. A sowing plan that’s in progress may raise production to 44,000 tonnes in the 2015-16 year, he said.

Tanzania, East Africa’s second-biggest economy, ranks behind Kenya, Malawi and Uganda in tea production on the continent, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization.

The main growing areas are Iringa and Mbeya in the south, Tanga in the northeast and Kagera in the northwest.

Four-fifths of the country’s tea is sold to foreign buyers from the U.K, Germany to India and the United Arab Emirates. About half of Tanzanian tea exports are channeled through the world’s biggest auction for the leaves in the port city of Mombasa in neighboring Kenya.

Tea is produced mostly in the foothill districts of the south and north. The northern tea producing region is in the area leading up to Mount Kilimanjaro. The main tea area in the north is Usambara in the Masai Steppe. In the south, tea is grown in the Njombe and Mufindi regions where the foothills rise up to the mountains bordering the Great Rift Valley and Lake Malawi.

Tea production remained in the control of large foreign-owned estates up until independence in 1961. When Tanzania became a republic it nationalized many of the large tea estates and encouraged smallholders to grow tea independently. The Tanzanian Tea Authority controlled the tea industry and bought the tea from the independent growers at a fixed price. Economic decline combined with the strict price controls served to virtually destroy smallholder tea production by the late 1990s.

Economic reform revived the large tea estates and majority shares were sold to foreign interests. This influx of foreign capital and the loosening price controls helped to revive the tea industry in Tanzania. The role of the Tanzania Tea Authority has change to that of a research and regulatory agency.

Smallholder tea production has also seen a revival. Several smallholder associations give independent producers access to resources and markets that would otherwise be out of reach. This support for smallholder tea producers has been the main factor in the improving quality of tea in recent years.

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