Tanzanian Cotton Sector

We are working with local institutions to restructure Tanzania's cotton sector and build supportive markets to ensure more than 400,000 farmers can access the quality inputs and training they need to improve agronomy, increase yields and boost incomes.

Tanzanian Cotton Sector
Tanzanian Cotton Sector
Tanzanian Cotton Sector
Tanzanian Cotton Sector
  1. 2
  2. 3
  3. 4
  4. 5
  5. 6
strengthening sector institutions, regulatory frameworks, farmer-processor relationships and supportive markets so that more than 400,000 farmers can access a sustainable supply of the quality inputs, training, information and credit they need to improve agronomy, increase yields and boost incomes

The Opportunity

Cotton in Tanzania is a sector which has huge potential for pro-poor impact.  Up to half a million smallholder farmers - concentrated in some of the poorest and least fertile regions of the country - grow the crop.  The sector has scope for significant growth: Tanzania’s average cotton yields of 550kg per hectare are barely a quarter of the world average and even smallholders in West Africa achieve yields twice as high.  Furthermore, there is potential to raise the quality of Tanzanian cotton from its current low level which sees it trading at a discount on world markets.


To take advantage of these opportunities requires tackling the sector's key constraints, including:

  • Poorly-performing institutional structures;
  • Weak policies and regulatory processes;
  • Limited farmer knowledge and application of good practice; and
  • Low quality and limited availability of supporting services and inputs.

THe vision

Tackling these constraints by strengthening sector institutions, regulatory frameworks, farmer-processor relationships and supportive markets would transform Tanzanian cotton, enabling more than 400,000 farmers to access a sustainable supply of the quality inputs, training, information and credit they need to improve agronomy, increase yields and boost incomes.  Poverty in the Lake Zone - where most of Tanzania's cotton is grown and 20 per cent of its population lives - would be massively reduced.

Our programme

To help achieve this vision, in 2007 Gatsby launched a large-scale, long-term and holistic programme in partnership with the sector’s governing body – the Tanzania Cotton Board (TCB).

Having analysed the constraints and opportunities, the Programme has undertaken the following interventions so far:

Reforming the regulatory structure of the industry

The Programme is supporting the TCB to champion the restructuring of the entire industry around contract farming – a system that addresses the key constraint of farmers’ lack of finance for inputs by ensuring that only ginners who invest in smallholders are licensed to buy, sell and export cotton.  After three seasons of pilots a form of contract farming was implemented in the 2011/12 season which saw more than 290,000 farmers receive inputs on credit, contributing to a record crop. 

However political support faltered and the system was largely abandoned for the following season.  The Programme has since worked closely with the TCB to build District-level support for contract farming, refining mechanisms for local government ownership of the contract farming agenda and enhancing systems for data dissemination and communication.  You can learn more about our changing approach to regulatory reform in the sector by clicking here to download a 2015 case study.

Enabling access to improved inputs

The Programme is supporting a public-private partnership between local research stations and an international private sector seed company to develop, multiply and distribute improved seed. This has secured the effective multiplication of a new generation of seed (UKM08) which offers significant yield improvements (+25%) as well as significant ginning outturn benefits (>20%).  Through its work with local research institutes, the Programme has also identified a set of improved pesticides for better Integrated Pest Management and these are currently being approved for widespread use.

Improving farming practices

The Programme has established demonstration farms piloting conservation or “minimum-tillage” agriculture and good agricultural practices, which can dramatically increase yields and rebuild nutrient-poor soils.  Ongoing and on-farm research shows that these practices can triple average yields when combined with improved seed and correct pesticide use.  The Programme has trained and supported a network of about 1,700 lead farmers across the sector to educate their peers on the practice and benefits, and is currently developing a network of private service providers to offer support services, such as tractor-drawn ripping for field preparation.

Since reversal of the contract farming policy in 2012, the Programme has trialled efforts to develop its network of lead farmers into input distributors, initially bulking village demand but eventually developing into stockists of inputs for a range of crops.  In November 2014 lead farmers collectively purchased more than US$60,000 of inputs for distribution.  This developing network might ultimately be coordinated in the future under a not-for-profit enterprise or even a farmer-owned business, which could play further roles including in crop purchase, marketing and even credit supply.

The Programme’s early work convinced other donors of its benefits, and co-funding has been secured from the UK’s Department for International Development, and the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation.

Looking ahead

Looking ahead, the Programme will continue to promote contract farming while mitigating against the risks of future reversals in policy by supporting lead farmers as input distribution agents.  It will also continue work to deliver training in conservation agriculture; support ginners in engaging with farmers; and secure the sustainable supply of inputs and improved seed.  

Video - The Cotton & Textile Development Programme

This video sets out the background of the sector, outlines the key constraints and explains the measures being taken:

Video - The Benefits of Contract Farming

This video was broadcast on a variety of channels across Tanzania in both English and Swahili to inform farmers of the benefits of the contract farming model and encourage their participation:

Video - Boosting Yields Through Conservation Agriculture

This video explains the benefits of conservation agriculture farming practices for cotton production in Tanzania. It also outlines how the Programme is disseminating conservation agriculture to farmers across the country: