Zanzibar’s Spice Farmers Face Food Insecurity

Despite reaping good profits, spice and herbs farmers on Tanzania’s Pemba Island have experienced food insecurity after they had made a decision to stop growing conventional food crops in favor of high-valued spices.

Amid rising costs of living triggered by spiraling food prices, hundreds of spice farmers on the tiny island have been pushed to the wobbly edge of survival as they struggle to put food on their families’ dinner tables.

“I wish I had grown enough cassava, bananas, and potatoes to cushion my family from hunger this time when food is too expensive to buy,” said Nasoro Kasim Mabrouk — a spice farmer in Pemba who has spent 75% of his spice income to buy food.

Mabrouk, who has four children, reckoned it was a “silly idea” to neglect growing food crops altogether in favor of herbs without foreseeing the future needs of his family.

“It doesn’t matter how much money you make selling spices and herbs, you need to keep enough food reserve at home,” he told Anadolu Agency.

Until recently, smallholder farmers in Pemba embraced good farming practice where food and cash crops were diversified. But Mabrouk and several other farmers out of sheer desire to make quick money decided to ditch food crops in favor of spices.

“When I sold my first harvest of spices I got a lot of money. I did not see the need to toil in the farm, growing maize while I could buy flour at any time,” he said.

Although crops diversification is widely known as an effective strategy for improving household food security, local farmers in Pemba who also depend on fishing activities ignore it.

“I have learnt a bitter lesson. Next season, I must grow a wide range of food crops, which I can only sell excess as the rest will be for my family use,” Mabrouk said.

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