We live in Mwanza, Tanzania, serving with Emmanuel International helping local churches in physical and spiritual ministry.

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Sweet Crisis of Sugar

My sugar search started. I scanned shelves. I asked shop assistants. But there was no sugar to be seen. Last week I tried several small shops before finding someone selling sugar. But this time, success was just around the corner, at the second shop I tried!
Sugar success!
Sugar used to be bought for 1800 shillings/kilogram (56p/kg or Cdn $1.10/kg). But with the current Tanzanian sugar shortage (which started last month), the price has risen at times to as much as 5000 shillings (£1.56 or $3)! I was pleased to get mine for 3000 Tsh this time.

Tanzanian friends of ours joked with us that Tanzanians put all their sugar in their tea (they love very sweet tea) while we put our sugar quota in our cakes and cookies! And so we see it now. The Tanzanians are struggling to sweeten their tea and we are missing a cookie after school or our standard banana muffins for breakfast or school snack! Rationing and substituting.

This sweet disaster is no laughing matter. The availability and affordability of sugar has degenerated into a crisis. And the sugar politics is proving bitter and rather hard to follow. Government and business are accusing each other of creating the crisis, but many believe it started in February when President Magufuli announced the sugar import ban, saying he would be the only person to issue permits as the whole sugar import process was steeped in corruption. And so prices have soared. Accusations have been made about sugar hoarding to creating an artificial shortage to justify price hikes. And meanwhile Magufuli's impossible attempts to fix the price at 1800 Tsh fail. And yes, the temptation once sugar is found, to buy up all the sugar in the shop is real and sweet. Sinful selfishness stirred up by sweet sugar.

It used to cost 200 shillings to get a cup of chai; now it will cost 300 shillings, so many opt out. So going without chai, I continued with my shopping. Pretty much everything we need can be bought at the local market. Shopping is a cheerful, friendly wander through the stalls jam-packed of people (much easier in the dry season without the rivers running underfoot). Someone selling tomatoes, another mama selling green lemons, men selling onions and potatoes. Most of the fruit is outside. As my woven basket was close to filling up, I spotted the most enormous avacados! They were the size of melons. But then chatting to the seller, I was reminded of the sugar crisis ... these giant avacodos were imported! But imported from Burundi, a country entrenched in a far more bitter crisis.

Avacados in the market

Someone transporting sugarcane on the road from the market
Back at home, with the shopping and precious sugar unpacked and put away, lunch preparations were underway and we enjoyed a visit from Pastor Amon who had just returned with Tim from Kayenze. Amon and Tim had been meeting with village leaders and trying to meet with the agricultural officer, discussing the next phase of the agricultural project working with more farmers and in a new sub-village. After our lunch of rice, chickpeas and cabbage and peanut butter cookies made with honey, we gave Amon a "tour" of the progress in our demonstration plot.

Tim and Amon in our shamba
Finally after all the floods, we are beginning to work our way out of the soggy mess down there! Young banana trees are doing well. Tim's cover crops of jackbeans, lablab and pigeon peas are prolific. Tomatoes are fruiting. Sunflowers are coming up and squashes too. And my precious artemisia has survived against the odds and is growing well. Pausing at the huge mass of sugar cane (planted by our neighbours on site) next to the banana tree, I contemplated how we could home-process some benefit from it. But without a cane press, I think it will remain to be hacked off and chewed by the kids on their way to school ... while we consider the benefits of a sugar-free diet.

Sugarcane and bananas with a covercrop of jackbeans

Lemongrass and tomatoes

Our first attempt to grow parsnips


  1. Glad to see your thriving parsnips, after enduring years of being mocked for my love of that sweet vegetable

  2. Ha! Good ol' parsnips. Miss 'em when you don't have them!

  3. We've had a butter shortage for quite some time now. I cook with margarine almost all the time as butter is too expensive. All the news about what we should and shouldn't eat from our home countries just doesn't seem so relevant anymore...How are your bees, will honey help you out?

    1. Sorry you are missing your butter, Wendy! We use BlueBand here! But we are lucky to get fresh cows milk so can use the cream off the top to make our own butter for more of a treat! Hopefully the honey will help soon! We are harvesting in August :)

    2. What's "BlueBand"? I had no idea that honey was seasonal, but I guess that make sense seeing as flowers are seasonal.

    3. Ha ..Blueband is like margarine, ... but made so that it doesn't melt in hot climates! You are not missing anything!! Stick with regular margarine!

      The bees will work in the hive for about 4 months until there is a good amount of honey to harvest! That is what we are waiting for :)


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