TANZANIA – Despite its economic potentiality as one of the world’s leading business crops, grapes production in Tanzania is experiencing diminishing trend with its growers enduring acute poverty.

Dodoma, the country’s major grape producing region is endowed with both semi-arid climate and lengthy seasonal rain periods that favour high yields of the significant cash crop.

In efforts to rescue the agribusiness sector, the Tanzania Distilleries Limited (TDL), a local brewer of wine brands including Dodoma Wine, Valuer and Ovameer has taken a step forward in support of about 720 grape growers in Mbabala A and B, Handali, Mvumi Mission, Chanhumba, Ndebwe, Mpunguzi and Hombolo villages in Dodoma.

TDL Managing Director David Mgwasa says the farmers are individually supported through a financial scheme which also embraces hundreds who are members of Savings and Credit Cooperative Society (SACCOS) called Chinangali in the area.

The empowerment program which is primarily aimed at providing training on modern grape farming methods capable of withstanding impacts of the climate change has been a success leading to production of  high quality crops that fetched handsome money at both local and foreign markets.

Through the support scheme farmers were able to produce a total of 730 tonnes last season involving 480 tonnes of red grapes and 250 tonnes of white grapes fetching  about Sh 546ml from the brewery company that was a sole purchaser of the products

However, Mgwasa cries foul over tax policies saying they are designed to counter the rules of the market citing an  example of a kilogram of grape that costs Sh 800 in the local market will be sold at only Sh. 200 in the global market.

He says the program run by local and South African experts plays a dual role of educational and social interactivity since his company hires special agricultural officers who live and work with farmers in the fields. 

He says agricultural experts are attached to farmers in the fields given the conviction that an ideal support to farmers should not be limited to giving them money for cultivation, but to also enable them produce high quality products matching domestic and international markets.

“We are determined to ensure that the business is free of interference from middle men who act as brokers between the farmers and the main buyers,” says Mgwasa in response to the farmers’ complaints that the brokers yearning to make high profits would buy the products from the primary producers in extremely low prices. He says the farmers run at a loss because the would- be profit from their transactions is taken by the brokers.

His company provides cheap loans pending harvests to enable the farmers survive the three-year period a grape plant takes to reach productive maturity.

“We want to see lives of these farmers improve,” says  the Managing Director, noting that the three-year period is just too long an endurance for a poor farmer to survive without income.

Provision of modern agricultural know-how and an apparent stable market to the farmers are among the most effective methods of empowering grape growers, notes Mgwasa saying, beside education in the form of special training programmes, his company provides the grape growers with stable market through buying the locally-produced grapes as raw material to brew the international wine brands namely the White and Red Dodoma Wines, Overmeer and Valuer wines.
But TDL’s and other stakeholders’ development strategies for sustainable grape industry are hampered by the poorly run and undefined government taxation policies, according to Mgwasa.

“While we keep on fighting to establish various sustainable projects in the country, the government unfoundedly comes on the way to turn the projects into sources of generating income in the form of high taxes detrimental to our interests,” he says.

“Sometimes the taxmen would come to demand their dues while the grape plants are still in their infancy,” says Mgwasa, adding that the tax rates and other policies have turned the locally produced grapes to be sold cheaper in the international market than in the domestic one.

Despite the challenges the local growers have expressed their content on the development of grape industry.

Juliana Masukwi (53) a grape grower says through the empowerment by TDL she has found new hopes and the stable market.

The mother of eight describes how her current state of economy has improved compared with the past when TDL was yet to get involved.

“The way we do the farming is completely different from the past… there are always experts behind us,” she says, adding “I want to put more investment in grape cultivation and sell my crops to both local and international markets.”

“It would have been impossible to take care of  eight children if I didn’t have sound and stable income… I now can afford to cater for all my basic needs,” she says.

Alphonce Mgaya (59), a grape farmer from Mbabala B village has vowed to grow grapes not only to overcome poverty, but to penetrate deep into the local market on his way to international levels.

But brokers are still in the middle to block Mgaya’s direct access to main buyers.

January 20, 2015; http://www.ippmedia.com/frontend/index.php?l=76416