Foreign Markets and International Trade Conditions
Historically, the Arab countries of Yemen, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the Emirates provided the largest market for mangrove poles, tannin, and logs. From the 1940s, or perhaps earlier, until the early 1970s, trade boomed. During this time, trade and urban life in the deltas flourished. The elderly delta people recall that, in the early 1930s, an English trading company known as the Liverpool Company was stationed in the Delta at Nyamisati where there was a harbor. This company bought mangrove poles, logs, tannin, sisal, cotton, and cashew nuts. In those days, Rufiji people had many cash crops, and they used the delta villages to get these commodities to the outside world. By 1974, the last Arab merchants were caught, suspected of trading without licenses. That was the end of the “good old days” for the delta people. Currently, the only commodities still being transported by river from the Delta are mangrove poles to Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam, and coconuts and cashew nuts from Mafia Island. Other commodities are transported by road to Dar es Salaam and other markets. Cotton, sisal, and cashew-nut growing have declined. Problems associated with marketing of these cash crops are the main reason for the decline.
Currently, most of the charcoal, firewood, and mangrove poles harvested in these deltas are transported to Zanzibar for sale. Some mangrove poles that are transported to Zanzibar find their way to the Arab states. Although this was substantiated by several people interviewed in Zanzibar, no data was available to gauge the magnitude and significance of the trade. In Zanzibar, mangrove poles are in high demand for house construction. The tourism industry is picking up tremendously and many hotels are being built on the island. Hotel construction uses a lot of mangrove, the bulk of which comes from the Rufiji Delta. This mangrove trade is illegal but no regulations empower the natural resources officers in Zanzibar to seize illegally obtained mangrove poles. What they do, therefore, is to collect from the mangrove traders the duties on imported mangrove products, regardless of whether they were legally obtained or not.