Alcohol producer and distributor Distell is spearheading a viticultural initiative in Tanzania expected to enable wine farmers in the Dodoma highlands to double their crops within three to five years — and may yet be developing a feasible model for rolling out vineyard productions across sub-Saharan Africa.
Distell chief viticulturist Dirk Bosman says the venture was being undertaken in association with Tanzania Distilleries (TDL), an entity in which Distell holds 35%. Consequently, the South African group was donating substantial cuttings of the Villard blanc cultivar propagated at its nursery near Wellington.
Once established as vineyards, these plantings would become an additional and much-needed source for both brandy and table wines for the Tanzanian market, as well as make inroads into growing the local wine production industry.
According to the Tanzanian high commission, the country ranks among the world's lowincome economies and is heavily dependent on agriculture. However, topography and climatic conditions limit cultivated crops to only 4% of the land area, meaning Tanzania is limited to processing agricultural products.
The economic recovery programme announced in 1986 by president Ali Hassan Mwinyi has generated notable increases in agricultural production and financial support for the programme by bilateral donors including the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
Statistics on the Department of Trade and Industry website show SA exported R852,9m worth of goods to Tanzania and imported R94m.
Base metals, machinery and equipment and transport goods, including motor vehicles, vessels and aircraft, accounted for 56,3% of the total.
However, the statistics showed a significant drop from the R2,7bn exported between 2005 and 2007.
Bosman says although TDL is a dominant player in the Tanzanian wine and spirits market, the combined capacity of its two cellars touches 800 tons annually, meaning the bulk of its wine must be imported via Distell.
“This project aims to increase the local content in the TDL wine and brandy ranges, transfer skills, build capacity and increase job opportunities in an otherwise marginalised rural area,” he says.
The initiative sees Bosman export his skills via training to Tanzanian farmers and viticulture extension officers as well as demonstrate low-tech vineyard management techniques to improve the quality and yield of local vineyards. The programme also includes a series of trial plantings at the Makutopora research and training centre near Dodoma.
The country's vineyards, occupying 150ha around Dodoma, are planted to red and white Makutopora (two separate varietals imported from Europe towards the end of the 19th century and named locally after the Makutopora research and training centre), chenin blanc, shiraz and cabernet sauvignon.
Poverty and the lack of access to technology mean the vineyards are hand-farmed using virtually no chemicals, which Bosman believes provides the springboard for training farmers to maximise their output while minimising the environmental impact.
On a broader scale, he believes once the educational model and its execution have been refined, it may be possible for Distell to roll out similar initiatives across sub Saharan Africa where there is a market for wines and in which the producer is involved.
Distell also owns Kenyan based The Winemasters and holds a 31% stake in Zimbabwean-based African Distillers.
Distell communications manager Heidi Bartis says Africa has become an increasingly vital market for several Distell brands and that by increasing the local content of products sold by TDL, the group was working most cost effectively while also building skills in Tanzania.
Essentially, Distell was engaged in preferential procurement and skills-building schemes in the South African wine industry and was adapting the model for its trading partners.Source: Business DayPublished courtesy of