15 February 2013

Tanzania: Coffee Disease Creates Panic, Confusion in Kagera

Bukoba — FOR many decades Kagera Region was identified by most Tanzanians as a bananaand- plantain country, the land of coffee... The land of plenty.

It is also identified as one of the regions favoured by early contact with European missionaries. The others are the Kilimanjaro and Mbeya Regions. Consequently, Kagera had an early start ahead of most Tanzania-Mainland regions in terms of education. In 1967, it had an average adult literacy rate of 40 per cent - with only Dar es Salaam, Kilimanjaro and Ruvuma doing better.

The agricultural sector has consistently been dominant in the Kagera regional economy. The sector engages about 90 per cent of the region's economically active population in the production of food and cash crops. Agriculture contributes most of the region's cash income, mainly from coffee, cotton and tea.

The sector accounts for about 50 per cent of the region's total income. The industrial base in the region includes Kagera Sugar Company Ltd, Tanganyika Instant Coffee Company (TANITA), Chato Cotton Ginnery, the Maruku Tea Factory. There is also the Bukoba curing plant (Bukop Ltd) located in Bukoba.

The region is endowed with several types of minerals, including tin, nickel, iron ore, cobalt, zinc and gold. Kagera Region increased production of food crops from 1,946,938 tons during 2005 to 2,837,515 tons during 2010, equivalent to 45 per cent increase, the Kagera Regional Commissioner (RC) Fabian Massawe has revealed.

He noted that during same period, production of cash crops also increased from 58,120 tons to 124,746 tons, equivalent to 114 per cent. The RC says that production of coffee has slightly increased from 7.2 tons per hectare to 9.7 tons per hectare (35 per cent), cotton production also increased from 0.6 tons per hectare to 0.9 tons, cassava from 8 tons per hectare to 11 tons while banana production increased from 15 tons per hectare to 18 tons per hectare.

He further said fertilizer application increased from 1,078 tons during 2005 to 4,766 tons during 2010, equivalent to 342 per cent. The Regional Commissioner said irrigation farming increased from 8,458 hectares during 2005 to 13,022 hectares during 2010, implying a 53 per cent success.

He added that the region anticipated to increase the area under irrigation to 16,336 hectares by 2015. The region still lagged behind in the use of power tillers and tractors. He said power tillers increased from only eight during 2005 to 54 power tillers in 2010 while tractors increased from 23 during 2005 to 46 by 2010.

However, the Coffee Rust disease has caused panic among Kagera farmers. The fungus directly affects coffee leaves, initially with yellow spots that later turn orange and reaches around the foliage of coffee, then makes the leaves fall," he said. "The plant loses its foliage. It's not able to breathe, so it ceases producing and it eventually dies." Honduras and Costa Rica declared national emergencies over coffee rust last month.

In Panama, the sixth largest producer of coffee in the region, the fungus has affected about 60 per cent of the crop this year, according to industry estimates. Guatemala's president declared a national emergency over the spread of coffee rust, saying the fungus that has hit other Central American countries is affecting 70 per cent of the nation's crop.

President Otto Molina Perez ordered the release of more than $14 million to aid coffee growers. He said the funds would help 60,000 small farmers buy pesticides and also finance instruction to teach them how to prevent the disease and stop it from spreading.

"If we don't take the needed measures, in 2013-2014 our production could drop by 40 percent," Molina said in making his country the third in the region to decree emergencies in recent weeks. Coffee rust, which can kill plants by making their leaves wither, also is affecting plantations in El Salvador, Honduras, Panama and Costa Rica.

Mexico's agriculture authorities said the fungus has been detected there but so far has not damaged plants. Experts say the fungus has been in Central American since the 1970s but production hadn't previously been affected so severely as what is feared this year. In El Salvador, the Salvadoran Coffee Council said the impact of coffee rust is the worst in 30 years.

The council estimates the fungus has affected 100 per cent of the country's coffee plants. Honduras also declared a national emergency in January seeking to curb the fungus and save its coffee, the nation's main export with about $1.4 billion in sales in 2012. "Until now, we estimate that about 10 per cent of the crops in the country have been affected," said Victor Hugo Molina, Director of the Honduran Coffee Institute.

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