Zanzibar says no to clove liberalization

UNGUJA, Zanzibar - Zanzibar government is not going to yield to demands to liberalize the clove industry in the Isles.

The demands, mostly coming from farmers and businessmen want the Zanzibar government to liberalize the clove industry, but the government has turned a deaf year to the request.

The Zanzibar Minister for Commerce, Industry and Marketing, Mr Nassor Ahmad Mazrui said: “We cannot let the farming of cloves go into private hands because the commodity is the symbol of Zanzibar.”

Instead, Zanzibar has enacted a law prohibiting anyone from transporting cloves without government permission and it is unlawful for anyone to make charcoal from clove trees.

On the other hand farmers and businessmen have asked that the crop be liberalized. With liberalization, they say, farming would be motivated because of price competitiveness.

However, the Zanzibar government is against the policy saying it would encourage clove smuggling to the nearby Kenyan town of Mombasa. 

The demand for higher prices has made some businessmen and farmers use dhows and canoes to smuggle cloves and other crops out of Zanzibar.

According to the Zanzibar Agricultural Transformation for Sustainable Development, 2010-2020 policy, cloves have been a major foreign exchange earner in Zanzibar for the last 150 years. 

Its production has, however, registered a significant steady decline over the last four decades from an annual average of about 16,000 tons in 1970’s to a current average of between 1,500 to 3,500 tons in the 2000’s. 

The declining production has been attributed to climatic variations, insecurity of the three-acre land tenure system, diseases, poor management and limited replacement and ageing of clove trees.  

In an effort to rehabilitate the clove industry, Zanzibar commissioned a study in 2004 to review the existing structure of the Zanzibar clove industry and proposed strategies for revamping the clove industry.             

Under Zanzibar law, farmers may only sell cloves to Zanzibar State Trading Corporation (ZSTC). 

Clove trees take at least five years before they start flowering, so poor prices have dissuaded farmers from replacing old or diseased trees, and some have abandoned their fields.

The islands’ retired President, Amani Abeid Karume has for years vowed to liberalize the clove industry, and in 2003 hired the Economic Research Bureau at the University of Dar es Salaam to formulate a development strategy to be in place by the end of 2007.

But little was done, prompting many of Zanzibar’s farmers to turn to crops such as seaweed and coconuts, which are freely traded.