The archipelago of Zanzibar in Tanzania, sometimes known as the Spice Islands, was once the world's largest producer of cloves. It is still an important industry for farmers on the island of Pemba which when dried are used as a spice in cooking, to flavour drinks like mulled wine and in medicine.  

For about 150 years, cloves have been a major export crop of Zanzibar. The industry was established through large plantations run with slave labor but these have been progressively fragmented into smaller holdings.

The months of September, October and November are the crucial time of year for clove farmers. It is the period of the short seasonal rains when the cloves are harvested by hand. Bunches on lower branches can be pulled off or shaken free. 

Harvesting: Clove trees can grow up to 15m (49ft) high. Farmers are obviously skilled climbers, scaling the trees to pull bunches off higher branches. Many people on the island depend on cloves for their livelihood. That has been the case since the trees were introduced from Indonesia around the turn of the 19th Century.

Selection and socialization

Drying: The buds are dried on mats in the sun. At this time of year one often sees mats covered with drying cloves lying by the roadsides. The cloves are left out for about three days. As they dry, they release a sweet, heady aroma, which wafts throughout the island.

Packing and sales: The cloves are put in sacks and taken to the warehouse awaiting transportation to the packaging centre from which they will either be sold locally or exported for use in cooking, medicines and cosmetics.​​

 Shipment: Today the clove industry has declined and there is relatively little export.
In the 19th and early 20th Century, cloves were transported on dhows to Aden and India, where they were sent around the world.



Researched by Cesare Giacomelli, House of Spices, Zanzibar


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