TPC Ltd, Tanzania

About the business

Started in







15,000 ha, including
8,000 ha sugarcane
4,600 ha forest/nature reserve
2.400 ha not cultivated due to salinity or used for residential and industrial purposes, roads, re-afforestation, etc.

Crop rotation


Soil type

Sand / clay / loam

Annual rainfall

400 – 500 mm


72 tractors, including

1x ATLES 946

1x AXION 820

1x ARES 836

2x ARION 640 C

32x CELTIS 456

27x AXOS 340 C

8 x CERES 335

About sugarcane growing

Biggest sugarcane producers


Processing capacity of other sugarcane factories

4,000 to 40,000 tonnes per day

"Here, just 50 kilometres from Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain at 5,895 metres, the tropical climate with plenty of sunshine creates perfect conditions for the crop."


More than half of the worldwide sugarcane plantations are still cut by hand, as they are at TPC. It can be dangerous because snakes make their homes in the sugarcane. “That’s one reason why we burn the sugarcane before cutting, otherwise the cutters wouldn’t dare to go in,” explains Frederick North-Coombes. The fire burns dry leaves without harming the stalks or roots. On the evening before cutting, the crop production manager decides which fields will be harvested the next day, and these are burnt. The decision is based not only on the ripeness of the crop but also on the weather conditions at certain times of the year. It is entirely possible that it might be raining in one part of the TPC estate but dry elsewhere. “That’s the Kilimanjaro effect,” explains Frederick North-Coombes.


The land owned by TPC Ltd is ideal for sugarcane. Here, just 50 kilometres from Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain at 5,895 metres, the tropical climate with plenty of sunshine creates perfect conditions for the crop. Particularly important is a guaranteed water supply – the annual water requirement of sugarcane is around 1,200 to 1,500 mm. 400 to 500 mm falls as rain, but mostly during April and May, the rainy season, so the fields must be irrigated with water from the mountain rivers and ground water for the rest of the year. However, despite the relatively good conditions, the soil presents an enormous challenge. “We have high levels of sodicity and salinity over a third of the estate and it makes it difficult to grow better sugarcane,” explains sugar expert North-Coombes. The salinisation effect occurs because more water evaporates than falls as rain for six to nine months of the year. This effect can be counteracted by overhead or trickle irrigation and good drainage systems. About 60% of the area under cane at TPC is sprinkler irrigated.

“Tractors here have two lives."


Eric Pignon, who is Frederick North-Coombes’s right-hand man, describes how the machines are used: “The tractors here have two lives. We usually keep them for around ten years, by which time they have 30,000 hours on the clock. They operate for up to 4,000 hours a year. For the first five years they are used for sugarcane transport, then they do another 10,000 hours or so of normal field work – fertiliser application, spraying and so on.” As Eric Pignon explains, this is a tractor’s normal life under TPC conditions. For transport and normal field work, TPC uses a range of tractor models from 50 to 150 hp. Removal of sugarcane roots, ploughing and soil preparation for new planting are carried out by four large tractors with up to 350 hp.


“It's impossible to compare conditions here in Africa with European conditions,” says Frederick North-Coombes. He is in a good position to judge because he is familiar with European conditions as he has family ties with Europe and has visited the continent often. The demands placed on the machines, the conditions and the staff are all extremely important factors. Summing up the situation at the TPC site, he explains: “It's difficult to find good service in Africa. We are a long way from everything, from civilised places and therefore from spare parts, machines and so on.” When looking for potential suppliers, they therefore place great emphasis on reliable partners, good technology and first-class service. Specially trained staff in the company’s own workshop carry out all the maintenance and repair work, so it’s no surprise that North-Coombes defines a good day as: “When you manage to sort out a complex issue or a complex problem and you succeed.”

Picture gallery

Making-of – Behind the scenes