KATANI Limited, a private company, has embarked on an ambitious project to introduce sisal in Shinyanga Region as a second cash crop after cotton.
The company's Director for Development, Mr Juma Salum Shamte said over the weekend that the project has capitalized on the frequent drought in the area. He said the company is working jointly with Oxfam and the government to execute the 300,000-dollar-project (about 480m/-).
"The project has taken off on a sound note as production now stands at 20 tonnes per month", he said. "Sisal is growing very well in Shinyanga.The problem is that over the years the residents were using it as a fence to demarcate their land," Mr Shamte said.
But this time around, he said, unstable cotton prices in the world market has made life harder for farmers in Shinyanga, thus a need to find an alternative crop. Mr Shamte said cotton is the best alternative cash crop for Shinyanga because it needs little rainfall.
Currently, a tonne of sisal twine fetches up to 1,200 dollars (about 1.9m/-) in the world markets. "We are targeting to produce 10,000 tonnes per year in the next four to five years," he said, adding that about 16,500 small scale farmers are going to benefit from the project.
"The project also brings awareness and economic opportunities in the sisal value addition chain to Shinyanga from what we have experienced in Tanga," he said. On his part, Acting Executive Director of the Tanzania Investment Centre (TIC), Mr Raymond Mbilinyi said that Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) are estimated to employ between four and five million of the the country's total labour force of 20 million.
A reasearch by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) shows that was a positive correlation between a country's overall level of income and the number of SMEs per 1,000 people. In the 1960s, Tanzania was the largest world exporter of sisal, producing 230,000 tonnes per year.
But the production plummeted between the 1980s and 1990s due to sisal fibre competing with synthetic and a drop of world prices. However, with technological advances and a big demand of sisal, production has gone up tremendously to about 30,000 tonnes per year between 2000 and 2008.
According to available data, the country has the potential to produce about 500,000 tonnes annually. This can be achieved in the immediate term by increasing yields and reviving existing estates to their full productive capacity.
Meanwhile, Mr Shamte said his company has teamed up with the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) to generate electricity using sisal waste and current.The project is currently generating 4MW. "This will rise to 100MW once the project is completed, in the next two years' time," he said.
The project is estimated to cost 100 million US dollars (about 160bn/-) to make the country the first in Africa to produce power from sisal waste. Katani is an agro-industrial entity with activities ranging from growing sisal, technical services to more than 2,000 contract farmers, processing sisal leaves into fibre and value addition and marketing, renewable energy production, consultancy and research and development.
In its year of existence, Katani has played a key role in transforming the lives of people in the surrounding communities, especially women who are now earning up to 300 US dollars (480,000/-) a month from a meagre 30 US dollars (48,000/-) ten years ago.