Fear of Unknown: Tanzania Cotton Farmers Paying a Price

The aim of the fifth phase government under his excellence President Dr. John Pombe Magufuli is to build an Industrialized and middle income country. While addressing the Sokoine university of Agriculture (SUA) community, his excellence President Dr. John Pombe Magufuli insisted on the importance of doing research mainly on cotton plants so as to solve the myth of wearing second hand clothes.

This university can be a source of change to the lives of many Tanzanians. Talking of cotton, we grow cotton and send them as raw materials to Europe. European produce clothes wear them and bring us the used ones.  We grow cotton, why can’t we produce and wear our own clothes, then exported the used ones to Europe. What is our problem? Why Tanzania? We must ask ourselves, where did we go wrong? What weaknesses do we have? What disease do we have? 


Fear of Unknown: Tanzania Cotton Farmers Paying a Price

This fifth government’s strategy of building industries aims at providing reliable market for farmers and creating employment in the country. The Minister for Industry, Trade and Investment Hon. Charles John Mwijage (MP) explains;  

We are talking of cotton industry, everyone knows the cotton sector, and it is an important sector. Cotton is a crop that enables the production of clothes. If you read publications on the building of industrial economies. Cotton is a sector that is explained to be significant and that if it is given an attention, it will easily achieve the purpose of industrial economy. I want to tell you, there are some people who do not understand why we are building industries. 75% of the reasons of building industries are   crating employments. Any government that ignores job creation, its days are numbered. 

Thinking of the question by President Dr. Pombe Magufuli on where we have done wrong, Joseph Mageta, a famous cotton farmer in the Shinyanga Region says

I was a cotton farmer for many years, since 1990s. I continued with this crop until when the challenges persisted, that is, the government paid less attention on this crop mainly on the input. You find a farmer unable to manage their far and when it is time to plant, the farmer does not have money and it is because of politicians. This crop has been influenced by politics. You find someone talking about politics especially members of parliament and councilors. They are bragging about crops that do not require politics.

Mr. Mageta presents an image of many farmers who have left cotton cultivation. The cotton Board is a statutory organization entrusted with the functions of overseeing the growth and sustainability of the cotton sub-sector in the country.  Marko Mtunga, the Director General of the Tanzania Cotton Board (TCB) states that efforts are now being made by the fifth government to ensure the availability of better seeds that will assist farmers to produce productivity.

The government has made great efforts to revive  cotton crop  and this year we expect more than last year's production, we produced a total of 133,000 tons of cotton seeds last season, but we expect if everything will go as planned to produce over 600 million kg. This shows that the government's intention to revive or sustain five strategic crops including cotton, coffee, tea, sugar, cashew nut  and tobacco has  began to bear fruit.

The main concern of these farmers is the lack of improved seed

Even that seed, I want to challenge the expert, the seed fails us, and the seeds grow rapidly and with these weather conditions, for example, these unreliable rains.  These seeds discourage our hope because it’s the seed that we depend on, instead we are brought seeds that demoralize   the farmer's heart. The seed does not produce. In the past, I was producing up to 1500kg per acre but right now even though you struggle you end up with nothing.

For cotton seed, we had seeds like three types, the first or the oldest seed type I do not know how it was called, I do not remember well, then we had UK91 seeds brought in as experimental seeds and we have UKMo8 seeds. So these are the three types of seeds we have and their challenges include failure to grow. Even in this season the problem manifested.  They germinate well in some fields and fail in other farms.  Now, I do not know whether the problem is from factory or the problem is that farmers are unable to follow instructions.  Generally, the seed is a problem.

You buy seeds, you plant them on the field and they don’t germinate. Tell me what would you do?  You find only one seed germinates or nothing germinates in the entire farm or more points, now what would you do?

The challenge of the risks and persistence of these insects is another factor in declining cotton production in the country. Although the Government prohibited cultivating cotton in the largest part of the country with a good land for cotton cultivation especially in the southern regions as a means of preventing the distribution of reddish caterpillars, cotton producers in the cotton growing regions are not safe. The world recognizes the major environmental and health effects of pesticides, but pesticides have been a myth to cotton farmers. 

I planted cotton in 2012, but I ended up with poor harvest. The problem was pesticides, the drugs that they brought to us were unusual and they could not kill the insects that were constantly attacking. I had planted three acres but the yield was very small. I got only Tshs 326,000/= for all the three acres. Since that year I stopped cotton cultivation.

At the beginning we had high production, you could cultivate seven acres and you get 3 or 3 and 1/2 tons. Nowadays you find yourself with one or even half a tons in the same farm. This is because of a lot of insects. 
We spray pesticides but after two days the insects already return. When we come to realize the production was so poor, we said no, we just decided to stop cultivating cotton. 

These pesticides are not proper, they don’t kill the pests. It reached a point farmers conducted an experiment with the pest and put it in the insecticide and nothing happened to the pest. . 

We went to spray the insecticides, we found caterpillars and insects, and we sprayed them.  When we returned in the evening nothing had happened to caterpillars. I told them, we would come to do some research on the drugs later, but in real sense was just satisfying them, because looking at expire date, the medicine was new, it was not expired.  We mixed the insecticides and applied them as required but the pests did not die. 
The first production we used know when we were young people until this time has changed. I remember in the past, they were using drugs such as thiodane, karat and other drugs. The Production has come down after the introduction of modern drugs that often do not kill insects

The invasion of American fall Armyworm is a new threat for cotton products.

In cotton, these pests have had a profound effect.  That is, they have completely destroyed.  For example, for those who planted at the beginning of the season could not harvest anything, maybe some farmers who planted late in January can get some harvest because the insects could decrease because of the rains.
The insects we used to know seemed different form these ones.  These are quite strangers. If not contacted with the pesticide, the pests go on attacking the cotton field.

As we say, we want to have industrialized Tanzania, manufacturing industry will be possible when we are sure of getting raw materials, and the government does not produce raw materials, citizens produce raw materials. So we have to invest in experts and policies to ensure in all circumstances the farmer does not have any loss.  If farmers are well-guided will fulfill that goal, you will see, we will be full of those raw materials. Our farmers are hard workers and obedient. 

For only two years the American fall Armyworms have caused a loss to the nation, this is according to the Director General of the TCB who says; 

In this year, this challenge emerged in cotton production.  Generally, in agriculture there is an invasion of new armyworm. This is a major problem for farmers, in fact, the government and all stakeholders must now plan a strategy on how to deal with this worm. This worm affects more than 80 species of crops. And cotton farmers did not know that there was a new armyworm which also attack cotton. So they maintained their routing of spraying for long interval of 14 days. This interval gave pace to the pest to continue with their destruction on the farm as a result farmers got loss.  For farmers who spent some time serving the fields at least their harvest was somewhat better.

The problem is that existing pesticides don’t destroy the worms’ eggs, so if you spray today and after three days the eggs hatch.   They continue with eating the crops. For a short-term solution, in the next season, the cotton board has decided to use traps for reducing butterflies hence reduce their reproduction. Since if you trap the butterfly you decrease the possibility of laying eggs.

Let’s ask ourselves, what miracles do those who supply us with new and even used clothes have? The current information on scientific publications and global financial institutions shows that the world's leading cotton producers are China, India, the United States, Pakistan and Brazil. All these countries have enabled their farmers to use Bt cotton seeds. The seeds are improved by enabling germination and resistant to insects that are still challenging Tanzanian farmers.

While farmers who use the Cotton seeds harvest between 1500 and 2500 kg per acre, Tanzanians harvest 400 to 800 kg per acre. Economic experts uphold that bt cotton farmers use a small amount of pesticides and then harvest four times more than Tanzania Cotton farmers who spend a lot of money on buying pesticides. It should be noted that cotton prices on the world market are similar to bt cotton and Tanzanian cotton. In that context, factories from cotton products in China, India, the United States, Pakistani and Brazil receive enough raw materials to produce throughout the year, while their farmers get a reliable market and gain more profit than Tanzanian farmers.

The biggest production in these industries reduces industrial production costs, so making clothes produced for example in china cheaper than in Tanzania. Not surprisingly, Tanzanian farmers wear clothes used by Chinese or American farmers. This is due to the fact that the income of Tanzanian cotton farmers is declining, so it is cheaper to buy second hands or even new costumes imported from abroad.

When looking for the answer of the President Dr. John Pombe on where did we go wrong?, Dr. Evelyn Lukonge, a leading cotton researcher in the country, explains the position of Bt cotton seed for Tanzanian farmers

There is an issue of the cotton as a solution on the challenge of pests in crop tassle. Many places and countries have benefited from the cotton. It reduces the amount of pesticides spray and of course in the process, we maintain the environment because the drugs have its own effects. the cotton can be a solution as we are recommended, and we can start with the early steps by putting it on our seeds that we already know are suitable in some environment by adding the ingredient that destroys pest. And if the cotton is used in other countries, there is no way Tanzania will cross, we have to.  But we must insure some technological  concerns are addressed  

The TCB Director also sees the opportunity of using Bt cotton seeds in the direction of industrializing the country
General, genetically modified cotton technology and bacterium in cotton seedlings counts to almost 80% of cotton cultivated around the world. So Tanzania is one of the countries that need to have such a technology. In its broad sense, biotechnologies respond to the issue of climate change. We have a number of plant pests and diseases, so I definitely call for studies of biotechnology to begin. Doing research does not mean we have begun to use the technology but when you have a technology you are better positioned to address any problem that might arise.

The main issue in which Tanzania should be aware of is, Kenya is already doing these experiments, while Malawians have three years ahead, Sudan already have the technology. If an action is not taken, Kenyan bt cotton will soon enter the country through silari boarder to Mara Region. As a result, we will be found unprepared, the man goes and picks up the seedlings from Migori and plants them here in Tanzania.   That is why it is important to start preparing so that we should not be brought seeds that we have not prepared for.

Cotton is an important item in the economy of Nzega District of the Tabora Region.  The Nzega District Commissioner Mr. Godfrey Ngupula wants researchers to be given a chance on this Bt cotton issue.

Personally, I consider an activist who has invested in talking only with no answers to the existing challenges as a dead activist, since there is nothing that has only negative impact. In science we say, if you do not have the research / any data you don’t have the right to speak. Where do they get the right to talk if they do not have any answers? So if they are against, let them give the answers and we will listen to them and their responses, otherwise they should keep silent and see what scientists can do. I know why they disagree, it’s true that science and technology have some negative impact, but we have to weigh out, are the benefits greater than the losses? Then we need to develop means to cope with the losses.  Just complain about technologies without telling us how to deal with the losses, where do you want us to go? Tanzania is not a village we must move forward.

At the same time, the Mara Regional Commissioner, Hon. Adam Malima, said that it is the right time for Tanzania farmers to benefit from the development of new cotton production technologies, since many challenges have scientific responses.

The Minister responsible for agriculture Dr. Charles Tizeba also expects the bt cotton to contribute significantly to cotton production in the country.

Currently, there is this issue of bt cotton.  The world has now shifted from the UKM08 technology and went this gene technology which increases cotton quality and production. I want to tell my colleagues researchers to start immediately.  They should not stick on UKM08 when their peers have shifted bt cotton with a lot of yields.  Sudan is doing well, Burkina Faso is doing well.  We are just locking ourselves with unnecessary procedures which are sometimes just delaying us.

In Tanzania, the final decision on the use of the cotton seeds or any seeds with genetic improvements is made by farmers. What are the Tanzanian farmers thinking about bt cotton seeds?

The farmers use insecticides so as to have better harvest.  But if there are seeds that are resistant to insects and the farmers are satisfied with them, I don’t find it difficult to move from this point to that point. There is no problem even if they won’t be using pesticides as usual, what farmers want is better yield. 
Eh, I will take it, isn’t it fine? I will take it very heartedly. That the seeds are pests resistant, I will take even more because they will have the best quality.

 If these seeds are different from those we used to know, we, farmers shall cultivate.  We have not despaired from cotton cultivation because it has helped us with all the pride you see here.  So if there is a good seed and market we are ready.

We are ready, if we well-instructed and well guided because farming is our work.  Mainly if we get satisfied with the production given the insects are many in this end. , I do not know whether that knowledge exists, we have no problems if it is brought. We want modern seeds that will restore farmer hope by getting as much as possible. 

The implementation of the fifth-phase Government initiative led by the President Dr. John Pombe Magufuli of industrializing Tanzania and becoming the middle economy country is for all of us. For cotton industry, policy makers, managers, cotton researchers and producers are ready. It will be remembered in 2013, the former President of Tanzania Hon. Jakaya Kikwete urged the start of cotton farming.

If we are worried on food, why not start with cotton? No one eats cotton and the harvest three times more than current harvest. Our fellows are doing, why not us? If you start, income will increase three times, and we will fight poverty as for the poor live in rural areas. It's because their activities do not provide enough income but if they will generate more and more earnings, we will be successful. So those are the issues we’re going to discuss about and we'll give you the conclusion soon. And we'll see how we go, but you are doing a terrific job and the challenges you face are known, we will continue addressing them.

Today all stakeholders agree we can use cotton to increase production and reduce the use of pesticides. Why are we are not starting? Who is it delaying us? Let us ask ourselves and get answers to get us out of here.


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