Monday, August 16, 2010

Tanzania: oxen project proving a boon in tobacco farming

CHILD labour is a problem in tobacco farming the world over, and it is estimated that millions of children of school-going age either do not go to school at all, or their attendance is erratic, because they are engaged on the farm. Tanzania has not been spared this problem. However, the number of children involved in tobacco farming in the country is projected to shrink considerably after stakeholders in the tobacco sub-sector developed measures designed to overhaul the extant farming methods by shifting from labour-intensive, hand-hoe cultivating to farming using draught animals. At the end of the day, so to speak, this should see to the reduction of the number of people employed in tobacco production – even, at the same time, increasing yields and productivity among tobacco farmers! One of the pioneers of the envisaged changes is the Morogoro-based Alliance-One Tobacco Tanzania Limited (AOTTL), a member of one of the largest independent leaf tobacco merchants in the world, Alliance-One International, Inc. of North Carolina, USA. The firm's core business has been the commercial processing of tobacco.
However, after realizing that tobacco farmers in Tanzania were producing little through hand-hoe farming – mainly because they lacked modern-day technologies – AOTTL came out with an 'Oxen Project' in 2004 through which local farmers are provided with ploughs, ridging equipment and oxen as draught animals.
Oxen are trained at for AOTTL Centres, after which they are sold to farmers on credit, the main objective being to improve tobacco cultivation in the country. Speaking to Business Times in an exclusive interview at AOTTL's Centre in Tabora recently, the firm's Corporate Affairs manager, Hamis Liana, said "one of our major goals is to enable farmers to send their children to school and not turn them into farm labourers."

An African child peeling cocoayarm. Child labour is still a problem in most African countries.

Stressing that “Education is a priority at Alliance-One,” Liana said: “we want to keep children in school not working as employees in tobacco farming."
Apart from freeing school-age children from child labour woes, AOTTL has also undertaken measures associated therewith. For instance, the company donated about Tsh55.0 million in the period January to June this year for the construction of classrooms and teachers houses, as well as the purchase of school desks and sports equipment in the tobacco-growing areas of , Urambo, Kahama and Manyoni.
According to Liana, AOTTL introduced the Oxen Project to also enable farmers “to spend more time learning and practicing new agricultural techniques;, and reduce the farmers labour force currently expended in land preparation. It would also meet demand for all kinds of transport at the farm level – as well as increase farmer proficiency, and expand areas for tobacco and subsistence crops farming Use of oxen in tobacco farming has increased crop yields by 34 per cent over and above what was being produced using the hand-hoe, Liana says. Virtually attesting to all that, a tobacco farmer of Mwongozo Village, Ulyankulu District in Tabora Region, Abdalah Dewji (32), told Business Times that the AOTTL Oxen Project “has been a blessing for me and my family.” Dewji said that, using the hand-hoe, his family was able to produce around 400kgs of tobacco on his one-acre plot in 2004/05. After turning to oxen-farming, the family was able to increase their farm to 20 acres, from which they now produce around 21,000kgs of the commodity, thereby earning about Tsh50 million. This, he reiterated, is 'compliments' of pairs of oxen sold to the family on credit by AOTTL. "This method of farming has enabled me to send my children to good international schools where they are receiving quality education. I have also dug a deep well for fresh water as you can see – and from which my neighbours fetch water free of charge," he exulted. Apart from producing tobacco, Dewji also cultivates food crops such as maize and cassava. This year he cultivated 15 acres, from which he harvested 220x100kg bags of maize. Asked if oxen-farming has been a solution to all his problems, Dewji said there were some challenges remaining to be overcome – including, especially lack of fertilizers and pesticides.
“Farmers in Tabora continue to suffer from lack of fertilizers and pesticides, which has been made worse after the change of policy whereby the Government is now responsible for supplying fertilizers to Societies,” he said. "Formerly, we were getting fertilizers from AOTTL without problem. But, after that policy was adopted, we have been badly affected. The Societies are not ready or willing to incorporate and support independent farmers like me as a matter of course,” Dewji says, adding that, if and when they access fertilisers, this happens rather late in the season. “When get fertilizers, they come late, sometimes three months after planting,” Dewji explains. “For instance, " I planted six acres with tobacco on the November 5 last year – and the fertilizers came three months too late!" In fact, all the farmers who talked to Business Times in Tabora of delays in the delivery of agricultural inputs whose supplies are associated with the Government! They almost all to a man called for a review of the new system, with some going as far as asking the Government to allow Alliance-One Tanzania to resume supplying agricultural inputs to farmers as they were doing so well in the past.



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Victoria Ibiwoye said...

Lovely piece. I find this information useful. Please let's connect via twitter @onechildafrica i am using the medium to promote African image and culture. Cheers.