2 March 2014

Zimbabwe: Mike Chidziva - Farmer, Tobacco Merchant and Livestock Producer

A long and smooth tarred road branching off to the right, at the 26km peg along the accident-prone Harare-Masvingo Highway leads to a huge gate -- where no car passes through without clearance from the farm owner known as "Mazarura."

Close to the gate is a small house where the gatekeeper resides. "Do you have an appointment with Mazarura?" a female security guard asked The Standard crew during our visit last week.

A phone call solved the matter and she opened the gate giving The Standard crew an insight into this unsung Chidziva Estate in Beatrice.

The man they refer to as Mazarura is a renowned tobacco farmer and businessman, Mike Chidziva, who owns a massive 3 450 hectares of Chidziva Estates.

This was not the end of the security barriers to the Chidziva property. After driving for more than 2km sandwiched between vast expanses of lush green grass, The Standard crew approached another gate.

Close to the gate, three women were shelling groundnuts and when told to open the gate, one of them hesitated, and then later, after consultation with others, gained enough courage to let the news crew in.

In Zimbabwe's rough road terrain, where potholes have become commonplace, the 7km stretch of tarred road makes the trip to Chidziva estates a pleasant drive.

This stretch of the road was constructed by Chidziva in co-ordination with the then District Development Fund (DDF) in the 90s.

The road ends outside the main house where Chidziva sits on a garden chair. He is irritated that the crew has kept him waiting.

"Jump into my car and I will show you," he said pointing to the Toyota Raider double cab truck with his walking stick.

As he drove towards the gate, Chidziva stopped the car and called one of his workers who was cycling to an assignment.

The employee understood his boss's instructions and jumped at the back of the truck.

His assignment, we later learnt, was to open the gates to the tobacco fields.

Upon arrival at the field, the workers rush to and fro in an apparent show of hard work at the sight of their boss.

Snapping out instructions and waving his walking stick, the workers seem as if they will melt at his beck and call.

His good natured side is however soon exposed when he waves at the farm workers' children as he drives around in his truck.

The 80-year-old Chidziva bought the farm in 1984 and only began large-scale farming operations five years later after securing finance to make his dream come true.

"I was among the first black people in 1984 to purchase a farm and it was no easy task getting started back then. Over the years, I realised the tremendous gains that tobacco farming could bring," he said.

He was however unwilling to divulge more about where he secured the funding or how but had some advice to new farmers: they should practise crop rotation.

"Most farmers get it wrong by over-using the land. This year, you plant tobacco on the land, next year you plant the same crop on the same patch of land and you expect a difference? Farmers should give land adequate time to re-generate so that it becomes fertile again," he said.

Chidziva points out to a group of workers harvesting mature tobacco leaves which are continually stacked up on a tractor trailer.

The farm workers number 100 including domestic workers, guards and general labourers.

After a tour of the farm, the news crew came across cattle drinking water at a designated watering hole and asked Chidziva whether he was into cattle rearing.

"Well, these cattle are still not as fit as I would want them to be but seeing that it's not my area of specialisation, I just keep them well-fed," Chidziva says, gesturing to a herd of fat beasts.

He has over 2 000 cattle that graze in the expansive terrain full of green grass.

Of Chidziva's estate, 40 hectares is dedicated to tobacco growing and the farm's crop yield is of exceptional quality year in, year out.

Most, if not the entire crop planted, is fast maturing and yields a golden-lemon tinged leaf that tobacco buyers would literally fight over.

With an efficient irrigation system in place and an abundance of rainfall, Chidziva expects a bounty harvest this season.

The tobacco crop is characterised by healthy skin and few but big golden leaves which fetch very high prices at the tobacco floors.

Asked how he managed to keep abreast of developments on the large farm, Chidziva said experience had proved to be his best tool in ensuring that every year his farm produced a quality crop.

"We don't employ any agricultural extension workers; rather we fumigate the tobacco for pests by ourselves. Occasionally we do consult research stations such as Kutsaga on best practices to adopt," he said.

"We want to own our country but what are we doing to show it? We as farmers are taking the front lead in showing ownership of our resources. We do this farming with the nation at heart," says Chidziva.

Last year, Chidziva came to the rescue of burley tobacco farmers after they failed to secure buyers for their crop.

He owns Chidziva Tobacco licensed by the Tobacco Industry Marketing Board (TIMB) which usually buys burley tobacco.

In 2011, the TIMB was forced to return burley tobacco to farmers after failing to secure a buyer with the crop finally being sold for a song at other floors.

Chidziva Tobacco was founded in 1998 and is registered as a privately owned Zimbabwean tobacco merchant.

The company has invested in tobacco substantially over the past five years in contract growing which permits it to contract farmers for direct purchasing.

"This machinery helps to ensure that I keep track with requirements of the farm at all times, and this is vital in ensuring that I produce the best crop possible," says Chidziva as he stands next to a state-of-the- art tractor and a combine harvester in the background.

Chidziva was the country's first black safari operator but he left the safari industry in 2011 after the expiry of the lease agreement with the Zimbabwe Parks & Wildlife Management Authority.

He has 10 children, five boys and five girls.

He declined to be drawn into detail about his family and personal life, preferring to speak only about his farming business.

"Well I'm a very busy man and I do manage to run this operation by myself." as Chidziva spoke, drums were beating in the background near his residence.

"Tonight nobody sleeps at this farm, we are hosting a "bira" [all-night ritual where members of an extended family call on ancestral spirits for guidance]," says Chidziva with a wide smile and a great deal of excitement.

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