The Tanzanian government is seeking new investors for eight premium horticultural farms in Arusha that it has repossessed.
According to Deputy Agriculture Minister Hussein Bashe, the farms, located on the southern slopes of Mount Meru, were once pioneer producers of barley, wheat, flowers and vegetables, but have been lying idle after being abandoned for over a decade now.
The farm owners are said to have fled the country after defaulting on government-insured loans amounting to Tsh43.8 billion ($19.04 million).
The owners, local and foreign investors in joint ventures, borrowed the funds through the Bank of Tanzania’s Credit Guarantee Scheme between 2005 and 2007, ostensibly to expand the estates, Mr Bashe said.
To protect the already rundown farms from further damage by trespassers, the deputy minister ordered security personnel from the army's national service economic wing to be dispatched.
“The repossession strategy is to see that all the farms are reallocated to more serious and creditworthy investors in the hope of a commercial resurgence,” he said during a tour of the eight estates last week.
The farms were owned by Kiliflora, now under BoT receivership, Kombe Roses, Shira Flowers, Allua Flowers, Zanziflora, Finlays, Flamingo and Arusha Blooms Ltd.
Horticulture is the fastest growing subsector in Tanzania's agricultural industry and an important source of foreign exchange revenues through exports.
Revenues from flower and vegetable exports are growing at 11 percent per year, compared to about 4 percent annual growth in the agro sector in general.
According to Tanzania Horticultural Association (Taha) chief executive Jacqueline Mkindi, horticulture in Tanzania is considered as an export-oriented business because of the inclusion of flowers alongside vegetables.
The industry currently has a $779 million export value per annum, compared with $800 million earned by Kenya’s flower exporters, and could potentially rise to $3 billion in the next five years, Ms Mkindi said.
Ten years ago, the value of horticultural exports from Tanzania was approximately $64 million per annum, less than a tenth of what it is currently.
The Covid-19 pandemic, which has since been declared over in Tanzania, put the country’s multimillion-dollar green industry under pressure after a lull of nearly 12 years. According to a Taha report, about 80 percent of Tanzania's estimated four million horticulture workers could lose their jobs if the pandemic persists.
At the height of the pandemic in Tanzania in April, Taha tried to cushion the industry from adverse effects by commissioning Ethiopian Airlines to airlift perishable high-value horticultural crops to overseas markets twice a week.
The first Ethiopian Airlines cargo flight took off from the Kilimanjaro International Airport on April 9 with 28 tonnes of produce destined for Belgium for delivery to other EU consumer countries. “Through this arrangement, we are certain to export more than 55 tonnes of horticultural produce every week, earning the country about $200,000 in foreign exchange per week,” said Ms Mkindi at the time.