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The importance of coconut farming

Mtwara/Lindi. When many people think of agriculture in the Mtwara and Lindi regions, cashewnuts and sesame are two significant crops that come to mind. Many people are unaware that coconut growing is a substantial business in both regions. Coconut cultivation used to be significantly more profitable than cashew and sesame farming in some areas.

Coconut trees can be harvested three or even four times per year, making them a sustainable crop. The tree lives for decades and the crop is collected all year.

Mtwara and Mtwara Mikindani municipals produce between 600 and 800 tonnes of coconuts per year. Levies generate between Sh600,000 and Sh1 million every month for the two councils.

Coconut is mostly grown in the districts of Kilwa, Lindi, and Liwale in the Lindi Region. According to data, 95,000 tonnes were harvested from 10,860 hectares in the 2018/19 season, but production fell to 59,429 tonnes from 10,098 hectares in the 2019/20 season.

Villagers in Lindi District’s Ng’apa paid Sh20 per coconut sold, implying that the region earned an average of Sh954 million in 2018/19, whereas the levy from coconuts should have been Sh594 million in 2019/20.

Coconuts are mostly used to make cooking oil, but their shells can also be used as firewood or ornaments. Its husks are used to make ropes and baskets, among other things. In coastal locations, unripe coconut is a popular snack and drink.

Abdulrahman Ally, a coconut farmer from Ng’apa Village, which leads the Lindi Region in coconut production, claims that coconut farming is his primary source of income.

He stated that they used to profit handsomely from the crop in the past, but that the crop price has fallen since the 2021 season. He claimed that in the past, a coconut might get up to Sh600, but now they can only get Sh200 for one.

“Prices used to fall during the wet season, but in recent years, even the dry season has been disappointing.” Despite the fact that it is now the dry season, we have a large store of coconuts in our homes,” he explains.

Issa Laulau, another village farmer, claims that he can harvest 10 tons of coconuts every three months, but that finding a market for the fruit is a huge difficulty. Dar es Salaam, Mbeya, and Songea are said to be their main markets. Hadija Hassan, a fellow farmer, says she, too, is looking for buyers.

“The local government has imposed a Sh20 levy on every coconut we sell, but they don’t help us get our product to market.” Worse, you’ll be charged twice if you take your produce to the market. “You pay both here and in the market,” Laulau explains.

Another important issue, he claims, is a lack of skilled coconut growing support. He claims that many trees are dying for no apparent reason, and that extension officers haven’t checked on them in a long time.

“A coconut processing factory in our neighborhood would also be appreciated.” He goes on to say, “This would provide a stable market for our grain.”

Another villager, Omari Abdallah, observes that in order to enhance productivity, a farmer invests heavily in crop tendering, and when the price falls, it is the farmer who suffers.

“If you don’t properly till your coconut farm, the yield will suffer. Because we are earning less and less, most of us are finding it difficult to properly care for our farms, and as a result, we will soon see a reduction in productivity,” he recalls, pleading with the government to find investors who can guarantee a steady market.

Benefits

Lind Regional Agricultural Officer Hadija Bakiri lists the benefits of the crop, saying that coconuts grown in the area are used to make cooking oil. Farers used to dry coconuts and export them internationally in the past. She also mentioned that the coconut tree is utilized to produce valuable lumber.

“Coconut leaves can also be utilized for roofing and fence. Coconut leaves can also be used to make baskets and indigenous headgear, according to her.

Challenges

Ms Bakiri claims that the crop has recently faced a variety of obstacles, including the advent of diseases that kill coconut trees, such as deadly yellow disease, a lack of reliable markets, price swings, and a lack of replacement programs for elderly and diseased plants.

“However, our research institutes have yet to develop coconut kinds that can thrive in today’s climate.” We also lack factories to process the product, as well as extension officers, leaving many farmers without assistance in their operations,” she adds.

Strategies

According to Amani Rusake of the Mtwara Regional Commissioner Office’s Economy and Production Department, crop development is also hampered by a lack of coordination, which has resulted in a scarcity of credible data required to plan a course forward.

“Coconut is unique among crops in that each farmer harvests at his or her own pace; unlike other crops, there is no set harvest season.” This complicates crop management.

He claims that efforts to engage farmers in order to determine what should be done to improve the crop have failed. He claims they contacted Malaysia’s envoy in the nation, who stated his country could buy coconuts from Mtwara, but nothing came of it.

“According to the embassy, we were waiting for instructions from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and East African Cooperation on what to do next.” We were prepared to mobilize farmers in order to serve this large demand. “But we’re still waiting,” Rusake continues.

Significance

Coconut is one of the most important crops in Tanzania, according to Furahini Hiza of Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute (TARI) in Mikocheni, Dar es Salaam, because it is the mainstay of many small farmers, particularly in coastal areas.

According to data, the country’s yearly production is 546,302 tonnes, and research undertaken by their center in charge of crop development suggests that an average tree may produce 45 nuts per year.

According to Hiza, coconut growing covers 265,000 hectares across the country, including Zanzibar.

Coconut growing is practiced in KigomaRegion and Kyela District in Mbeya Region, as well as various parts of Lake Victoria’s shoreline, in addition to coastal locations.

Coconut, according to Hiza, is one of the most significant crops in the country and overseas, and it has the ability to improve the economics of individual farmers as well as the national economy through investments in processing facilities that would boost coconut exports.

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