Tanzania: Taking the spice out of cloves?

Cloves were once worth more than gold and the native spice has been a mainstay of Zanzibar’s economy for the last 150 years. But frustration is growing among farmers in the island and neighbouring Pemba about a battle between the public and private sector which is reducing their incomes and losing Tanzania its dominant position in the world market. Is government intervention a recipe for disaster, asks Aameera Jiwaji .

There’s an anecdote about how Zanzibar’s clove farmers prefer to hoard their harvest in their homes, hedging their bets for a time when local market prices will be more attractive.

It illustrates the high asset value of cloves in the local Tanzanian farming community – a narrative mirrored in history when cloves were worth more than gold, and European countries would go to war to ensure access to them – but it also speaks to a deep-seated frustration with government controls of the industry and farmers’ reluctance to engage with the state apparatus.

Fortunately for them, dry cloves age well. But their dissatisfaction with the government peaked in the early 2000s, when they stopped protesting silently and instead set their clove trees on fire, sending a strong message about […]

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