Paddy Roberts | March 18, 2013
Mrs. Petronila Gobi is a member of the Mbugwe Sesame Agricultural Marketing Co-operative. The group was formed in 2011 as a result of a sesame project implemented by an international NGO called Farm Africa.
The Mbugwe division in Babati District, northern Tanzania, had been identified by the national government in the late 1990s as a suitable area to grow sesame. The oil-rich crop does well in the division’s hot and dry conditions. However, farmers were slow to pick up on sesame’s potential. Yields were low, and traders would often take advantage of farmers by offering them low prices.
Mrs. Gobi had been growing sorghum, which was made into local beer. She also grew cotton, which she sold to a local company. She says, “Before the co-operative started, I was growing less than a hectare of sesame. Now I am harvesting from six hectares.”
Mr. Tumain Elibariki is the Farm Africa crop specialist. He says, “Sesame is a high-value crop, which has a low water requirement. Farmers in this co-operative have now largely replaced sorghum, cotton and maize as cash crops.” He favours intercropping sesame with pigeon peas, as the legume fertilizes the sesame plants as they grow.
The training that farmers received from Farm Africa has helped them more than double their production to almost one tonne per hectare. The average yield across the world is only half that figure, placing Babati’s sesame growers amongst the world’s most productive.
Farmers are encouraged to use minimum tillage. This practice conserves soil moisture and reduces the need for weeding. Many farmers are now hiring tractors to prepare their land, when the equipment is available. Sesame can be attacked by aphids and early blight, and requires pesticides for protection. This means that the costs of growing the crop are relatively high.
Farmer Constantine Martin says the added investment results in a valuable crop. He used to grow flowers to sell in Arusha, but now concentrates on sesame. He says, “To increase the sale price, we take the effort to clean the seeds and keep varieties separate before they are sold. Pure white seeds are preferred for export.”
The farmers are now also growing a black-seeded variety which is extremely rich in oil. This is very important to their plans for processing sesame products. The co-op is planning to invest in a motorized oil-press, as it is very hard to squeeze all the oil from the seeds with their manual press.
Sesame is considered a family crop, as older children can help make biscuit-like snacks after school. These are marketed locally along with baby food, sweets and sesame oil. The residue from producing oil is used to make the snacks, and as an animal feed. However, it is the export market which makes the crop attractive to local small-scale farmers.
Buyers visit the co-op warehouse to negotiate. Mohammed Enterprises is one of the biggest buyers in Tanzania. The company buys sesame in bulk and exports it as far as India and China. Farmers can store their sesame at the warehouse until market prices are favourable. They can also take a loan in advance of sales.
Mr. William Mwakyami is the Farm Africa project coordinator. He says that world demand for sesame is three times the current supply. Sesame production in Babati is currently about 3,000 tonnes per year. Mr. Mwakyami believes that, by choosing improved seeds and farming practices, Tanzanian farmers could produce as much as 110,000 tonnes. Mr. Mwakyami says, “We plan to replicate this model in other divisions of the district, as the Mbugwe co-op will soon be self-sufficient.”
There are 102 women in the 245-member co-op. The group covers 23 villages. Each village has two production groups with 20 members. Mrs. Gobi chairs one of these groups. She says, “I started a group of 20 farmers and then discovered that 70 young people wanted to join!”
The members are now earning more for their produce. Before the co-operative was formed, traders paid 25,000 Tanzanian shillings ($16 US) for an 85-kilo bag. But the higher quality of the produce and the bargaining power of the co-operative have driven the price up to 153,000 Tanzanian shillings (over $95 US).
Mrs. Gobi says, “Now we have better houses, education for our children, and can afford to eat three meals a day.”