FROM interest-free loans and zero tax to price stability, the revolutionary government of Zanzibar is increasingly offering incentives to attract and retain more clove farmers.
Through its trading arm- Zanzibar State Trading Corporation (ZSTC)-the government seems determined to revive the once islands' gold and mainstay of the national economy. The highly valued clove sector in the Indian Ocean's semi-autonomous archipelago has gone through ups and downs.
Price fluctuations had discouraged many farmers, with some opting to destroy their farms in the 2000s, protesting against unprofitability of the otherwise lucrative crop. Many years of growers' discontent nurtured the huge black market for Zanzibar cloves, which were indiscriminately traded and smuggled to neighbouring Kenya.
Surprisingly, without a single clove tree, Kenya was once among the leading clove exporters. But, under the government-backed sweeping strategies to restore the crop's past glory, clove smuggling has become history.
"There is literally no smuggling today because it's economically unfeasible to illegally export Zanzibar cloves... we offer prices, which cannot be obtained anywhere in the world," says ZSTC Managing Director Dr Said Seif.
The government, determined to inspire more clove production, has for almost a decade maintained the 14,000/-farm-gate price for the first grade cloves, irrespective of the prevailing prices in the world market.
Under the current crop buying season, ZSTC offers 14,000/-, 12,000/-and 10,000/-prices for the first, second and third grade cloves, respectively, above the world market prices of between 4,700 and 5,000 US dollars per ton, equal to between 11,045/-and 11,750/-per kilogramme.
And, Trade, Industries and Marketing Minister, Ambassador Amina Ali rules out any possibility of the farm-gate prices declining, "We have already decided in the government, the clove prices will never fall due to global market forces, we don't want to discourage our farmers."
She regrettably recalls the recent past when majority farmers, irked by low and unsteady prices, abandoned and some uprooted the clove trees in favour of bungo fruits. "We know that the price fall in the world market is just temporally, it's only a matter of time before things come to normal," argues Minister Amina.
President Ali Mohammed Shein is the brain behind reforms in the country's major cash crop. Upon entry into the top office in 2010, Dr Shein introduced comprehensive measures to rescue the clove farmers out of abject poverty.
Besides pricing, the government introduced interest-free loans, free seedlings to farmers, zero taxation of clove growers and cash purchase of the produce. Through ZSTC, all needy farmers receive interest free loans for farming inputs during production and harvesting.
"The idea is to support, not to make business out of our farmers, so we don't charge them interest," argues Dr Seif. The relatively mollycoddled clove farmers, unlike their cotton and coffee counterparts on the mainland, pay literally nothing to the government-be it taxes, levies or fees.
Through its devised strategies, the government aims at increasing production to between 10,000 and 15,000 tons in the next two years. Over recent years, clove production peaked 8,500 tons in the 2017/18 farming season before tumbling to 200 tons in the 2018/19 season.
"Oscillations in clove production are common," the crop chief overseer says of the 97 per cent drop in production within one year. And, to achieve the target, the government has already distributed over five million clove seedlings to farmers in a comprehensive campaign to expand acreage as well as replace the deceased and aging trees.
ZSTC, according to Dr Seif, is working hard to convince Zanzibaris to revive their clove farms, which they had changed into other uses. Historically, Pemba Islands had dominated production of the money-spinning crop, with between 97 and 98 per cent of the total yield but farming has in recent years picked up in Unguja, which currently contributes over eight per cent.
Ambassador Amina implores many Islanders to embark on clove farming to accrue the benefits of government assured impressive prices. And, she remains optimistic that Zanzibar will soon get back to her bumper harvests.
"Over the past years, we have been distributing between 300,000 and 500,000 seedlings annually to our farmers-these trees are almost maturing and once they start producing, our harvests will skyrocket. The future is definitely shiny," says the minister.
Zanzibar, once the world's largest producer of cloves, saw her production declining due to a myriad of problems that haunted growers. The islands are today ranked the third-largest producer, with single-digit market share as Indonesia reportedly controls 75 per cent of the market.