Outcry in Zanzibar as coconut prices rise amid production shortfall

Wednesday October 19 2022
A woman selling coconut in Mombasa, Kenya.

A woman selling coconut in Mombasa, Kenya. The retail price of coconut has risen, causing consumer complaints in the Unguja Island in Zanzibar.


The retail price of coconut has risen, causing consumer complaints in Unguja Island in Zanzibar.

The popular dish content is now selling between Tsh1,500 – 2,000 ($0.64-0.86) in the Unguja commodity market depending on size and retail location, with the consumers and retailers expressing their fears.

The archipelago’s Minister for Agriculture Shamata Shaame Khamis blames the rise in the price coconut to a decrease in local production with furniture makers now using coconut trees.

“When you look to (increasing) construction of hotels, according to information that we get, the coconut tree has increased its value in furniture making,” Khamis told KTV TZ Online.

Coconut tree furniture

He said hotels are now using furniture made of the coconut tree and that the value of such furniture has surpassed that of other types of wood.


The minister said the speed of re-growing coconut trees to compensate on lost ones has been overtaken by carpentry demand for such wood.

A carpenter, Mohammed Daudi, said the coconut tree furniture is exclusive as it comes with a natural look and black dots which are attractive to the eye.

Daudi said furniture made from coconut trees has become popular among hoteliers who look for ways of attracting international tourists who have developed a taste for such pieces of furniture like beds and chairs among others due to their complexion.

Results of a tree census conducted between 2013 and 2014 in the archipelago estimated that only 3.4 million coconut trees were available as compared to 5.7 million in the late 1900s.

The archipelago’s commodity market is now being supplied with coconuts by the adjacent coastal towns of Tanga, Mafia and Kilwa in Tanzania mainland and “only a small portion from the local suppliers”.

Household use

Consumers say a household uses three coconuts for cooking dishes per day, which significantly raises the daily family budget.

Machano Haji Bakari, a resident of Unguja, said many coconut trees have become old and people are only harvesting the nuts without re-planting, hence the decline in local production.

Bakari is among those who order coconuts from the mainland and said they buy them for Tsh1,000 ($0.43) per piece with an additional Tsh180 ($0.078) for transport expenses.

“Some coconuts will be defective and others too small and unattractive, so we have to sell the bigger ones for a minimum of Tsh1,400 ($0.6),” Bakari said.

In the past, Zanzibar was known to be a stronghold for cloves and coconut production in the region.

It used to produce bi-products like copra, coconut oil and fibres which were used to manufacture carpets among other products.

Coconut rehabilitation scheme

Minister Khamis said an ongoing coconut rehabilitation scheme is providing free tree seedlings to farmers.

Abeid Nassib, a resident of Unguja who hails from Muheza District in the Tanga region in the mainland, said Zanzibar should counter coconut tree felling for furniture production by adopting to traditional rules like the ones followed in his native Kwa Mnazi village where the owner of a coconut tree has no right to cut it until an elders’ meeting decides so.

Another problem in Unguja is that growers or owners are harvesting immature coconuts, probably due to rising demand.

A Study in 2017 by Z.E Muyengi titled: “Evidence Based Decline in Coconut Productivity along the Coastline of Tanzania” noted that Tanzania mainland is a major producer of coconut in Africa and ranks 11th in world. Between 1979 and 2004, there was a significant increase in coconut production in Tanzania due to the implementation of the National Coconut Development Programme which has since been phased out.

Small-scale farmers

About 95 per cent of the coconuts in the mainland are produced by small-scale farmers who own an average of one hectare each.

Globally, the plant is grown in 93 countries spread along the tropical belt of the world covering an area of 12.07 million hectares, with an annual production of 62.45 million tons of nuts per year.

Africa contributes 3.4 per cent of the world nuts. The leading producing countries include Tanzania, Ghana, Nigeria, Mozambique, Kenya, Cote d’Ivoire, Madagascar, Guinea, Benin and Togo.