After decades of stagnation, Tanzania's clove industry looks set for exponential growth as world demand increases, prices bounce back up, and the government invests in a program to improve yields and efficiency in the sector.

Cloves are one of Tanzania's leading agricultural exports, with a long and exotic history in the country. Production is concentrated on the islands of Zanzibar, which has semi-autonomous governmental and legislative status within the United Republic of Tanzania (made up of the mainland and Zanzibar). On the island, cloves are the main cash crop, having reputably been introduced by the French horticulturalist and all-round adventurer Pierre Poivre in the late 1770s. The story goes that Poivre smuggled clove seedlings away from their sole native habitat on the Maluku Islands in Indonesia as part of efforts to erode the Dutch monopoly over the East India spice trade. The seedlings were then taken to Zanzibar and a new industry was born. The clove trade subsequently boomed between Zanzibar and the Middle East after the islands fell under the control of the Sultanate of Oman. The Sultans established clove plantations using slave labor and an extensive spice trade took place between Zanzibar and the Middle East. In the mid-1800s, Said bin Sultan even moved his capital from Muscat in Oman to Stone Town, the historic heart of Zanzibar City. Today, the second largest island of Pemba grows 90% of the cloves produced by Zanzibar. Other spices such as black pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon, turmeric, and vanilla are also still grown on the island, which is rightfully renowned as one of the Spice Islands of East Africa.

Not surprisingly given its history, Zanzibar was the world's largest producer of cloves from the 1850s onwards. While the quality, flavor, and aroma of Tanzanian cloves is still considered to be amongst the best in the world, today the country is only ranked number three, producing 6.1% of total global production. In 2012 Tanzania produced 6,850 tons of cloves, down from a peak of 17,000 tons in 1966-1967. By comparison, Indonesia is by far the leading producer now with a 64.6% share of global production at 73,000 tons in 2012. Tanzania's African neighbors, Madagascar, Comoros, and Kenya, were ranked second at 23,500 tons, fifth at 2,200 tons, and sixth at 1,750 tons, respectively, in terms of global production in 2012, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The flower buds of the evergreen clove tree, which can grow up to 12 meters in height, are harvested over the months of September, October, and November, before the rainy season commences. As well as culinary uses, cloves have traditionally been utilized in both traditional Indian and Chinese medicine, including as a mild form of anesthetic in dentistry. It is also used in perfumes, and the essential oil is used in the food industry in a number of products, including processed meats, sauces, and confectionary. UN FAO figures indicate that clove oil was fetching between $2,500 and $3,800 per ton on the world market in 2007, making it a very valuable commodity. And according to the Global Essences Market Report for February 2014, prices for clove oil are on the rise again with production levels insufficient to meet the current global demand of around 55,000 tons. Further, this demand is expected to continue rising to an estimated 115,000 tons by 2020.

These growth trends should be good news for Tanzanian clove growers, and in fact the sector has been rallying of late after decades in decline. In August of this year, The Tanzania Daily News reported that over the last four years, clove production has increased by an average of 4,310 tons per annum, and prices have risen by 180%. This is due partly to recent government efforts to improve the way the industry is governed. In 1964 a state-owned monopoly, the Zanzibar State Trading Corporation (ZSTC), was established that fixed the price farmers received for their clove crops, which they could only sell to the ZSTC. Farmers have long argued that the price they were receiving for their crops lagged behind the international market price. This even led some farmers to take drastic action and smuggle their cloves over the border to Kenya in an effort to get a better price, according to a report by Anjali Nayar published via Reuters on 25 January, 2009. Now, the government has launched its 10-year Clove Development Strategy (CDS), which includes reforming the ZSTC, and aims to provide incentives to farmers to encourage better management, along with investment to increase yields. For example, over 2013-2014, 1 million clove seedlings will be handed out to farmers free of charge under the CDS. And the free plant distribution initiative is to continue at this pace for the next three years. It is hoped that these efforts will set the industry back on track to recapture its former status as the world's leading clove exporter.