Cacao farming is not a new agricultural undertaking in Tanzania, but for the crop to come from the central Morogoro region could be the latest development.
Essentially it is the farmers in Kilombero District of Morogoro that are struggling to ensure that their precinct overtakes Southern Highlands in becoming the leading Cacao producer.
When combined maybe the country will soon also become the ultimate name in organic Cacao production.
The African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) through support from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and Global Nature Fund (GNF) has seen this potential and thus launched initiative to support Cacao farming activities, in Kilombero Valley.
Through the ‘Inclusive Green Growth for Agrarian Communities’ in Kilombero, Cacao growers in Kilombero are being assisted to go about the trade differently, balancing farming and environment conservation to save the country’s most important water catchment area.
Just as they have always been assisted in their rice growing industry, as can be seen here working on paddy farms
“We want farmers to be fully responsible in environment protection through profitable Agro-forestry activities,” explained the AWF Program Manager, Pastor Magingi.
African Wildlife Foundation started implementing a project targeting to reach 2,000 Cocoa and rice smallholder farmers in Kilombero district.
The initiative covers 16 village located within Mngeta division, of Mlimba Council, including Mofu, Ihenga, Namwala, Mngeta, Mbingu, Ikule, Njage, Makutano, Kisegese, Udagaji, Lukorongo, Chiwachiwa, Igima, Vigaeni, and Mchombe
There are over 100,000 smallholder farmers in the area with about 90 percent of the population depending on Agriculture, where 70 percent grow rice and almost 20 percent grow cocoa.
And at least 35 percent of all farmers happen to be women.
“The main driving factor in encouraging Cacao farming is the availability of ready markets, but this also demands quality produce, that is why we have growers working in groups to ensure that through the unions they get to reach set standards,” added Alexander Mpwaga the AWF Agricultural officer.
Though almost 99 percent of Tanzanian cocoa is grown organically, Cacao farmers in the Kilombero Valley not only practice organic farming, in the complete absence of any inorganic inputs but actually yearn to be recognized as such, beyond borders and continent.
Tanzania produces about 70,000 tons of raw Cacao seeds in a year, from mostly the Southern Highlands farms. The figure is a far cry compared to West Africa’s annual output of 2.5 Million tons. But for growers in Kilombero their competing edge comes from the fact that, theirs is totally organic Cacao.
“Though farmers here are yet to receive international organic certification, so far all their activities carried out as organically as possible producing naturally healthy Cacao,” said the local extension officer, Ally Mnolwa.
The crop, from which candies, edible chocolates and drinks as well as cosmetics products are made from, commands over US $ 1 billion, cash flow annually.
John Victor Somola is among the local growers, through mixed farming, where Banana Plantains grow alongside Cacao trees in symbiotic arrangement, with banana leaves providing the badly needed shade for Cocoa.
He makes more than 11 million/- from Cacao per season. “I am planning to send my son abroad for studies due to the same crop,” he explains, indicating that the fruit does pay.
The beans grown by farmers in the Kilombero Valley are of Trinitario type and while nobody knows for sure where they originated from, one thing for sure is that cocoa has been grown in the country, precisely Southern Highlands, since the 1880s.
Commercial Cocoa production started in the country during the 1960s, though up to now sixty years later, there hasn’t been much promotion of the cacao or efforts to develop it as a serious cash crop.