Tanzania: Farmers replace climate-stressed cash crops with vegetables (Trust)

| May 25, 2015

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Ludovick Meela is preparing to cut down the rest of his ageing coffee trees and replace them with vegetables. He says, “That is the best thing I could do to earn a living—coffee beans are no longer profitable, as my harvests keep on falling. I need fast-growing crops I can sell for a quick income.”

The 72-year-old farms in the small village of Kanji, nestled into the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro. He has depended for decades on coffee farming. But the changing climate and a fungal disease have made his trees less productive, and his yields have collapsed.

Mr. Meela is just one of hundreds of farmers in northern Tanzania who are abandoning traditional cash crops such as coffee and cotton. Climate stresses, falling prices and rising production costs are all contributing to this change.

Mr. Meela recalls, “When my children were growing up, coffee was everything to me. I got a lot of income from it … But all that is history.”

Inputs for coffee farming have become more expensive, while the price of raw coffee has dropped in recent years from 2,500 Tanzanian shillings [$1.25 U.S] to 750 shillings per kilogram [$0.37 U.S.].

A recent study by the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa examined the impact of climate change on Arabica coffee production in the Kilimanjaro Region. It found that higher night-time temperatures were the main factor behind the significant drop in coffee yields. Mr. Meela says his yields have crashed by 60 per cent.

Cotton production, which employs about 14 million Tanzanians, is also declining. Near the southern end of Lake Victoria, hundreds of farmers in Bariadi District have replaced cotton with onions. The vegetable is more profitable than cotton and more resilient to extreme weather.

Daniel Manyerese stopped growing cotton because persistent drought reduced his yields. His production costs were also rising. He discovered that onions thrive in the current conditions and fetch a good price at the market.

Henry Mahoo is a professor of agricultural engineering at Tanzania’s Sokoine University of Agriculture. He says cross-border trade policies need to respond to changing growing conditions. Professor Mahoo says, “It is a question of government policy, because very often farmers with surplus … are not allowed to sell to neighbouring countries to meet their needs.”

Back in the shadow of Africa’s tallest mountain, Mr. Meela is not looking back. He started growing vegetables on his irrigated three-and-a-half hectare plot in 2011. He grows cabbages, onions, lettuce and “Irish” potatoes. He also keeps several dairy cattle in his backyard. The father of six says, “Demand for fresh vegetables and milk is quite large, and the market is promising.”

To read the full article on which this story was based, Cabbages trump coffee for Tanzania’s climate-stressed farmers, go to: http://www.trust.org/item/20150518093310-u8uxb/

Photo: Bernadeta Meela and her neighbour Tumaini Masawe gather vegetables on Meela’s family farm in Kanji village, Tanzania. Credit: Zuberi Mussa