Striving to transform Tanzania’s cotton sector

Briefing papers
February 2019
Gatsby’s cotton programme. Photo credit: Raqey Mohamed, i-view studios CC-BY-NC-ND

Cotton growing and ginning is one of Tanzania’s top three agricultural export industries. It is a major source of livelihood for up to half a million smallholder farmers, mostly in the large region of enduring rural poverty lying to the south and east of Lake Victoria, known in Tanzania as the Lake Zone. The sector has been underperforming for 50 years, with productivity stagnating and international prices and therefore earnings falling in line with productivity gains in competitor countries.

Gatsby Africa's Cotton Sector Development Programme (CSDP) is an important effort to turn this situation around by addressing the principal causes of low productivity in cotton growing and ginning (production of cotton lint) in the Lake Zone.

This briefing note reviews Gatsby's programme and presents the following key messages:

  • Since 2007, the failures and successes of Gatsby’s programme in Tanzania’s cotton sector have shown the importance of (1) combining technical diagnosis with political insight and capability; (2) supporting indigenous problem-solving coalitions; and (3) adaptive programme management.
  • Donors looking to maximise their impact should consider emulating the Gatsby funding philosophy – aiming for the big prizes and providing patient and flexible support.
  • Gatsby should use the lessons from cotton to strengthen the political economy dimensions of the framework it has developed to identify and track the key conditions contributing to progress within a sector.