*Njombe’s Remarkable Potato Value Chain: A Story of Innovation and Economic Potential
By Neema Munisi
Njombe is not just another region in Tanzania. This beautiful locale is pushing the boundaries of innovation, creating economic milestones, and setting benchmarks for other regions to emulate. A particular focus of Njombe’s success lies in its potato value chain.
“Mimi ni muumini wa One Product One District,” stated Anthony Mtaka, Njombe’s Regional Commissioner. This philosophy emphasizes that each district should be recognized for a specific product. “Ni muumini kwamba at least kuwe na kitu kinachoitambulisha wilaya,” Mtaka emphasized, highlighting the belief that each region should have its distinct identity.
Though Njombe’s focus is on potato production, Mtaka clarified that this focus doesn’t limit people from pursuing other endeavors. He shed light on the various areas of production in Njombe, from avocado farming to other promising sectors. But the region’s primary triumph story revolves around potatoes.
In Kitulo, a locale in Makete, the potato farming contribution to their local council’s finances from just one area amounts to 500 million Tanzanian Shillings annually. This is a staggering amount considering that it equates to a quarter of the local council’s budget.
Mtaka recounted an instance where he mentioned that a center named Mtwango in Njombe sees farmers harvesting as much as 206 sacks of potatoes from just one acre, an astonishing yield by any standard. He nostalgically recalled, “Nakumbuka walikuwa watu 8; kuna watu walipata gunia 100, wengine 150, 140, 180, 190, ila watu 8 walipata gunia 206.” Such numbers suggest that with appropriate irrigation, these farmers can achieve even more outstanding results.
However, with success comes skepticism. Some online critics dismissed these figures, prompting Mtaka to invite them for a reality check, “nenda pale ukafanye interview,” he challenged.
A pivotal point in Mtaka’s address was the emphasis on adding value to Njombe’s potato production. He stressed on the idea of a ‘potato city’ and the need to brand Njombe’s potatoes uniquely. The plan is to not just sell raw potatoes but to explore avenues like frozen and pre-processed potato products.
This is where Njombe’s innovative market vision comes in. Instead of selling the traditional sacks of potatoes, the idea is to process and provide frozen, pre-cut potatoes to vendors, making the process simpler and more efficient.
He suggests a shift in paradigm. Instead of only selling whole potatoes, Njombe could supply vendors with frozen, ready-to-cook products, streamlining the entire process. Mtaka drew parallels with UBA’s efficient taxi service model to highlight how structured systems can transform traditional business operations.
With a forward-looking gaze, Mtaka noted, “Huko ndo tunakotaka kwenda,” signifying an ambitious, innovative trajectory for Njombe’s potato industry.
In a world where “talk is cheap,” as hon. Mtaka aptly put it, Njombe is taking tangible steps toward actualizing its economic potential, setting an example for regions not just in Tanzania, but across Africa. The story of Njombe’s potato industry shows how vision, innovation, and hard work can transform an entire community’s economic landscape.
The region’s unique climatic conditions, combining cool temperatures with fertile soils, are a boon for potato cultivation. These advantages, coupled with generations of farming expertise, have propelled Njombe to contribute a whopping 25% to Tanzania’s total potato yield, as highlighted by the Tanzania National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).
These aren’t just any potatoes. The round potato variety, prevalent in Njombe, occupies a special place on Tanzanian plates, appearing as comforting staples or morphing into much-loved snacks like chips and fries. Beyond consumption, the ripple effects of this crop are palpable. As a major income generator, it powers the local economy, creating jobs not only in cultivation but in ancillary sectors like transport, storage, and marketing.
Yet, every silver lining has its cloud. And for Njombe’s potato farmers, the challenges are very real:
Seed and Fertilizer Accessibility: High-quality seeds can drastically improve yields, but accessibility and affordability barriers persist.
Irrigation Constraints: Despite the region’s rainfall, dependable irrigation infrastructure remains an elusive dream for many.
Post-Harvest Woes: Inadequate storage and transport mean that a chunk of the harvest never makes it to the market, leading to losses.
Market Information Gap: A lack of real-time market data can lead to selling at sub-optimal prices.
However, change is on the horizon. The Tanzanian government has recognized the sector’s potential, initiating steps to redress these pain points. Investments are flowing into providing better seed access, improving irrigation systems, and strengthening the post-harvest infrastructure.
To unlock Njombe’s full potato potential, a holistic strategy is crucial:
Seeds and Fertilizer Distribution: Collaborative partnerships between government, NGOs, and private players can ensure quality seeds and fertilizers reach even the remotest farmer.
Infrastructure Development: Focusing on robust, sustainable irrigation and storage solutions can safeguard against unpredictable climatic shifts and minimize post-harvest losses.
Capacity Building: Empowering farmers with the latest research, technology, and market insights can shift the balance in their favor.
Market Linkages: Leveraging digital platforms to connect farmers directly to buyers can eliminate middlemen and guarantee better prices.
By confronting these challenges head-on and capitalizing on inherent strengths, Njombe can secure its place as not just a potato hub of Tanzania but a model of agrarian resilience and innovation for the entire continent.
Neema Munisi is a leading expert in agribusiness and gender-focused food systems. She is also a trainer on business-related topics. For consultancy, write to her. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org