MRS Jane Chacha 36 and many other women of Muriba village, Tarime District in Mara Region have every reason to smile as they now earn more than enough money to meet their daily needs, thanks to ESSAB (T) Ltd which has invested heavily in coffee sector in the area.
ESSAB is a Tanzanian company that buys and cleans coffee. The company since April last year runs Muriba coffee processing factory which was set up by the government through Tarime District Council with the aim of adding value to the cash crop. Apart from setting up 19 buying points in various coffee growing villages in Tarime, ESSAB has created employment opportunities for dozens of women from surrounding areas.
"We need more coffee factories like this. Our colleagues from the neighbouring villages envy us. They also want to work on coffee factories and earn a bit of money," Mrs Chacha told the 'Daily News' at the factory early this week. Mrs Chacha, a mother of six admits that despite being a casual labourer at the factory her weekly earnings enable her to take care of her family.
'Life was hard but here I pocket a little something every week. We pray for ESSAB to extend its operations to other coffee growing areas in Tarime," she said. The factory's operations manager, Mr Reginald Mtei, said ESSAB engages about 40 casual labourers on daily basis. So far the company has spent close to 400 ml- to pick around 460 tonnes of unprocessed hard Arabica coffee from different villages of Tarime during the last coffee buying season of 2011/2012.
"Our company has set up 19 coffee collection points so as to make life easier for the coffee growers. The company then transports the picked coffee to the factory," Mr Mtei said. The factory started off with a single machine with the capacity of pulping 2.5 tonnes of coffee per hour. The company has recently bought a new machine with the capacity of handling 6 tonnes per hour, according to him.
Purchase of the new machine was triggered with the increased demand for hard Arabica coffee that has to be cleaned before it is bought. "Our first machine could not keep up with the pace meet so we had to buy an additional machine increasing the capacity to over 8 tonnes per hour," he said. Not connected to the main electricity grid the coffee pulping machines use generators. While the company awaits its application for electricity to come through, electricity poles have been installed under the on-going Tarime rural electrification supply project.
But for the Tarime coffee electricity woes are not their growers they are more than happy by the attractive prices ESSAB offers for their coffee. "In the past coffee prices were very low here, a kilo of unprocessed Arabica coffee was for sold between 180/- and 200/- from 1990 to 2005. Discouraged many coffee growers cut down their coffee plants and replaced them with other crops.
It was not until 2006 when doors were opened for to allow more buyers to purchase the cash crop in the area, ending monopoly that frustrated farmers in the district. Now the same coffee is going between 2,100/- and 4,500/," Mr Joshua Sibuti, a renowned coffee farmer in Tarime, said. "We thank all those who have made it possible for the coffee price to go up without forgetting district leaders and district Agricultural officers," Mr Sibuti said, adding that the presence of ESSAB has greatly helped to create employment opportunities for youth and women.
The Tanzania Coffee Board (TCB) is keeping tabs on the behaviour of coffee buyers, a move which had also helped sustain better pricing of coffee in the area. The coffee regulatory authority has in the recent years opened a zonal office in Mara region, in a bid to supervise the development of coffee sector in the area with Tarime being one of the key target areas at the moment.
TCB is planning to transform Tarime coffee into fully washed Arabica, says Director General, Engineer Adolph Kumburu.
"This will be achieved by establishing more stations like Muriba. The advantage is that washed Arabica coffee fetches a higher price than the unwashed coffee," Engineer Kumburu explained. ESSAB is at the same time planning to install more machines in other parts of Tarime with the aim of taking its services close to farmers. "For example, we are planning to have a machine at Nyambora that will target villages like Kegonga, Masanga, Mangucha and Kangariani," the company official said.
It also plans to supply about 200,000 coffee seedlings which are disease resistant to Tarime farmers in a bid to increase production of the cash crop in the area, according to Mr Mtei. Officials estimate that there are around 8,000 coffee growers in Tarime where the climate is suitable for coffee growing in the entire district. However, poor rural roads and communication infrastructure is seen as a stumbling block hindering development of coffee in Tarime.
Most of the roads are impassable especially during rain seasons, hence making the transportation of coffee to the selling points difficult. Tarime District Council port anticipates to earn over 100mil/- from coffee revenues by the end of financial year (2011/2012). If there is anything the coffee growers are making noise about, is the fact that not a single telecommunications company operates in the villages. "We are compelled to cross the border over to Kenya to use Safaricom services.
This is indeed disappointing and a huge shame. We ask our government to look into this matter," another farmer identified as Chacha Marwa said. Hundreds of villagers living in the villages located across the border in Tarime district rely on the Kenyan Safaricom to make phone calls.