18 February 2013

Zimbabwe: New Tobacco Rules Rile Growers

Photo: Derek Ramsey

TOBACCO growers are concerned over the new global market requirements which they fear are tailored to destroy their only source of income. Growers are now required to produce the crop in a sustainable way while the World Health Organisation is seeking to ban tobacco production.

Activists are calling on buyers to buy tobacco from countries that do not practice child labour, infringe on women's rights, cause deforestation or use harmful chemicals.

But farmers argue that the requirements are a political move targeted at Zimbabwe's tobacco industry.

Selous farmer Mr Mark Chasima said tobacco had been his mainstay.

"Tobacco has become a lucrative crop. We have improved our livelihoods because of producing the crop. I am afraid those people who dictate on the world market will continue to put stringent measures that will see us not producing the crop at all," he said.

Mrs Maidei Mandaza of Spencer Farm, Chegutu, said she was sending her children to good schools and universities using proceeds from tobacco.

"Although I am a small-scale farmer, I have built a decent house and bought two vehicles last season and now I am in the transport business," she said.

"Over 82 percent of the 66 000 registred tobacco growers are small-scale farmers who benefited from the land reform programme.

The growing sector is almost 98 percent indigenised with many women and youths now empowered.

Speaking at a field day in Selous, former Zimbabwe ambassador to China Cde Christopher Mutsvangwa said it was unfair for developed countries to try and disturb the tobacco industry which was benefiting Africans.

"I went to China and most people smoke so we still have markets. Developed countries are now raising concerns over tobacco production because it is benefiting us.

"What does coffee benefit us and why are they not concerned about it? They should leave us to make money," he said.

Boka Tobacco Floor chief executive Ms Rudo Boka said smoking was about adults making informed decisions.

"Why is that we have not seen stringent measures on beer? Some of these requirements are also political, taking into consideration that tobacco is mostly grown by African countries. Developed countries may want to find a way to destroy the economies of African countries," she said.

Ms Boka said tobacco was the springboard which will revive the farming sector.

She, however, said it was the responsibility of the industry to stick to the requirements so that Zimbabwe produces a clean crop that meets international requirements.

Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board chairperson Mrs Monica Chinamasa said the global requirement was forcing tobacco merchants not to buy the crop from auction floors.

"I encourage stakeholders to structure initiatives that can stimulate reversal of deforestation and also improve efficiency of energy usage in tobacco curing in a way that conforms to the new market dictates," she said.

Mrs Chinamasa, however, said Zimbabwe was not going to be affected by the requirements as there was no child labour in the industry.

She said Zimbabwe's labour laws did not allow children to work.

Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union president Mr Wonder Chabikwa said: "We should follow the requirements and I do not think we will have problems with the issue of deforestation. Already the Environmental Management Authority has been campaigning for the planting of trees to be used as fuel for tobacco curing. We encourage our farmers to establish woodlots before embarking on tobacco production."

Zimbabwe Farmers Union second vice president Mr Berean Mukwende said the regulations would not harm the industry.

"Most of the children in Zimbabwe go to school and cannot be employed at farms. The national employment council for agriculture clearly states that farmers should not employ minors and our farmers have been adhering to that including providing protective clothing, observing normal working hours and using approved chemicals," he said.

Mr Mukwende said the Tobacco Research Board always tests chemicals before they are used and only approved chemicals are commercially available.

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