29 July 2012

Zimbabwe: Good Times Roll for Tobacco Farmers

THE tobacco selling season ended last week with agricultural experts and farmers describing it as a success as the rebound in production of the golden leaf continues.

Tobacco production had dipped following the chaotic land reform programme to 48 million kg in 2008 from the peak of 236 million kg in 2000. The rebound in tobacco production started in 2009. Although some tobacco farmers complained about the relatively low prices, most of them were happy with the price and the organised manner in which the crop was sold, unlike in previous years.

The farmers attributed this year's success to the assistance they received from contractors and local financial institutions. In an interview with The Standard at Boka Auction Floors last week, Macheke farmer, Douglas Chingara said he would be able to buy inputs for next season from the proceeds of his sales.

"The money we got here will take us a step further in preparing for the next season," said Chingara, who added that most farmers from his area got assistance from Boost Africa and Tobacco Processors of Zimbabwe. Chingara however could not divulge how much he got this year.

Another farmer, Tonderai Sorima from Shamva said small-scale farmers who started tobacco growing following the land reform programme had now acquired the skills needed in the industry.

"When I started growing tobacco, I used to produce a poor quality crop, but I now produce the best because I have learnt the tricks since 2001 when I ventured into tobacco growing," he said.

Sorima said through growing tobacco, most farmers had been able to improve their lives, "sending their children to school and even electrifying their homes". The Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (Timb) chief executive officer, Andrew Matibiri said more farmers preferred to grow tobacco because of its viability.

He said most small-scale farmers now preferred to grow tobacco because it was more lucrative than some crops such as maize. "I think the main reason for the success is increased production because of the viability of the crop," said Matibiri. "You also see more banks and contractors assisting the farmers in terms of finance as well as monitoring their crop."

The Timb boss said about 13 contractors assisted tobacco farmers with Northern Tobacco, Mashonaland Tobacco Company, Zimbabwe Leaf Tobacco, Tribac and Tian Ze being the major sponsors in the past season.

As of Thursday last week, Matibiri said, about 139,25 million kg of tobacco valued at an estimated US$510 million had been sold at the auction floors. Last year, 132,4 million kg were sold, generating US$361,5 million.

Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union president, Donald Khumalo, attributed the success to an increased number of new farmers venturing into tobacco growing unlike in previous years where it was a preserve of white commercial farmers.

He said apart from banks and contractors who assisted growers, the farmers' unions also contributed immensely by offering capacity building support as well as monitoring the tobacco, ensuring that a quality crop was produced.

"The increase in the number of tobacco auction floors also helped to ease congestion which was a major problem in the past years," said Khumalo.

Four auction floors-Tobacco Sales Floor Limited, Boka Tobacco Auction Floor, Millennium Tobacco Floors and Premier Tobacco Auction Floor-were operating during the just-ended selling season.

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