Dar es Salaam — Some call the coconut ‘the tree of life,’ while others have named it ‘the pension tree’ to describe its long-term benefits that can last for over 100 years.

Tanzania is a major producer of coconuts in Africa with an annual production of nearly 800 million coconuts, especially along the country’s coastal belt.

“We have between 250,000 and 260,000 hectares of land on which are at least 25 million coconut trees,” says Tanzania Agriculture Research Institute (Tari-Mikocheni) manager Zuberi Bira.

Coconut is among the world’s oil producing seed crops. The final product (edible oil) is in high demand in Tanzania – given the fact that a lot of the oil is still imported.

Dr Bira says the current coconut production can produce up to 58,000 tonnes of cooking oil which can help cut the shortage, creating an opportunity for this sector.

According to the Ministry of Industry and Trade, Tanzania’s annual demand for edible oil is 650,000 tonnes as compared to 290,000 tonnes produced locally, hence making a deficit of 360,000 tonnes.

Edible oil demand forecast shows that 700,000 tonnes would be required by 2030, therefore guaranteeing the market growth for investors in the foreseeable future. The government has been promoting seed crops farming for the purpose of mitigating the shortage, however, more efforts are needed as this type of agriculture still faces many challenges.

Dr Bira says coconut, which grows well under the climate of over 27 degrees Celsius and 2,000mm of rainfall, can very effectively cut the edible oil shortage, provided appropriate initiatives are put in place.

He says to increase production of coconuts in the country and boost its contribution to the oil industry advanced farming techniques must be applied.

“You can plant the trees with spacing of 10 metres to 15 metres to allow mixed farming. It is possible to include other crops within the same farm,” he says.

Dr Bira says mixing coconut with other crops is efficient and does not affect its production, however different trees would require different type fertilizers and other agro-inputs.

He says coconuts also require planning and other farm care to control pests and diseases.

“Pests can be controlled by fumigation but also biologically you can plant oranges or lemon trees which attracts a type of ants known as ‘Majimoto’ which attack pests that attack coconuts,” says Dr Bira.

Uses of coconuts

Dr Bira adds that coconut trees leaves are also used for roofing houses and some of the mature trees may be used as woods while the milk inside coconut fruits can be used as fresh beverage.

Coconut can also be used as to produce medicines and sometimes the fruit shells used as firewood or fertiliser for home gardens.

Challenges

Dr Bira says apart from rapid urbanisation, which resulted in cutting down of coconut trees, another key challenge is the use of traditional farming methods by majority farmers.

Another challenge is that most farmers still use local seeds instead of improved ones thus affecting their yield.

“Farmers don’t use improved seeds, they only depend on seeds that they either get from friends or family without considering other factors,” says Dr Bira.

What should be done

Dr Bira says through Tari the government has increasingly been engaging farmers to promote modern agricultural techniques. It is also involving some local authorities to start plots of improved seeds.