19 February 2013

Zimbabwe: New Conspiracy to Ban Zim Tobacco

Photo: Derek Ramsey


Only a stupid cow rejoices at the prospect of being taken to the smartest abattoir. Tobacco and environment activists have lobbied international buyers not to buy the golden leaf from countries that practice child labour, infringe on women's rights, cause deforestation and use harmful chemicals.

Tobacco growing in Zimbabwe is big business, the nation having generated about US$800 million in the 2012 Tobacco Industry Board selling season.

The buyers were from different countries, the world over.

Well, on face value the new regulations are high sounding and ideologically correct. And, yet behind this, is a very sinister motive to choke emerging tobacco growers, the likes of Zimbabwean farmers, for long sidelined in tobacco production by a few white farmers, until the advent of the land reform programme about a decade ago.

A burnt child dreads fire, so they say. We should not forget that Zimbabwe, this Zimbabwe, is coming from a bruising fight to sell its diamonds.

The long fight is too hard to forget since the country's economy still bears the wounds and scars of the fight. There were spirited efforts to attune the world into believing that Zimbabwe's diamonds were bloody, even when there was no iota of sense in the claim.

Before all and sundry could bury memories of the fight over diamonds -- yet another fight has come -- this time in the form of tobacco production.

The new regulations on tobacco production can only be viewed by people as progressive when they blind themselves to the sad reality that the entire move is an assault on the land reform programme that has seen 66 000 indigenes venture into, and dominate, tobacco production.

Suffice to say, before the land reform programme, tobacco production was a preserve of less than 10 000 whites.

It is fact not fiction that 98 percent of tobacco growing in Zimbabwe today is indigenised and benefiting men, women and youths.

Where 10 000 whites were growing tobacco, about 66 000 black small holder farmers are doing so. In their heyday, these white farmers were masters of child labour.

These whites were masters of exploitation. These whites used to wake up women and their children at 4am to work in their fields, underpaying them too. These white farmers used to cut down trees and stash codes of firewood as replacement for expensive coal.

Black children on farms never went to school.

Yet, today hundreds of new substantive or satellite schools have been established on the same farm. No one raised issues with the white farmers.

Zimbabwe should not be blinded to the fact that the white former farmers have ganged up and are disguising themselves as tobacco-cum-environment activists.

When a former player becomes a referee in a game of football featuring a player whose tackle broke his leg in the match that abruptly ended his career, what do you expect? Will the former-player-cum referee not certainly find an excuse to red-card his avowed enemy?

After realising that the war against the sale of diamonds is lost, there is no doubt that the new tobacco growing regulations should be seen as the opening of another war front against Zimbabwe. The said regulations should be resisted and dismissed with the contempt they deserve.

The small holder tobacco grower in Zimbabwe does not employ child labour but goes to his fields with wife and children from as young as five years.

The problem here is that when Europe starts defining child labour, this will be manipulated to mean child labour and abuse of the wife. Do pregnant women not do hard work, by working on the fields in Zimbabwe?

Our experience in the past should tell us that the same activists tried to have a redefinition of blood diamonds, aimed specifically at our diamonds in Marange? Sooner rather than later, we will have a KPCS version for tobacco.

Before we even know it, a team will come to certify our fields and how we grow and cure our tobacco? Is Europe not the major supplier of tobacco chemicals? Why are they offloading dangerous tobacco chemicals to us, if they do now want us to use them?

Since independence in 1980, Zimbabwe has had an illustrious national environmental management strategy that has seen the State proclaim a national tree plating day (December 1).

Trees are planted that particular day plus others that are planted everyday.

Tree planting is a daily occurrence. Tobacco farmers might not have done enough to replant trees, but surely reforestation programmes are there and they have been planting trees to replace cut ones. All we need is urge our farmers to plant more.

Allowing these new regulations to be applied on us is behaving like a cow that enjoys being taken to the smartest abattoir in town. The life of the tobacco farmer will be gone. The US$800 million industry will be gone. Then we will be a laughing stock.

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