Zimbabwe: Reprieve for Tobacco Farmers

6 January 2022

Government has given tobacco farmers who are still planting the crop as a result of an erratic rainfall pattern experienced during the onset of the current farming season up to January 10 to destroy seedbeds.

Due to the late rains, many farmers, not only for tobacco, are still planting in many parts of the country with the hope that the season might prolong to end of April.

As such, Government has since extended the period of destroying all tobacco plants and seedbeds from December 31, 2021, to mid-January.

According to regulations governing the growing of tobacco, by December 31, every year all farmers are expected to have destroyed their seedbeds, which is essentially necessary as a way of curbing the spread of pests and diseases.

However, during 2021/22 planting season, it imaged that many growers of rain-fed tobacco have not been able to transplant their crops within the required timeframe.

Pursuant to these challenges confronting the farmers, the Minister of Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement, Dr Anxious Masuka, exempted tobacco growers from the measures implemented in terms of Section 5 (1) of the Plant Pests and Diseases (Tobacco) Regulations, 1979.

"All tobacco growers are aware, the last day of destroying all seedbeds was December 31, 2021. However, due to the late onset of the rains, many growers of the rain-fed tobacco have not been able to transplant their crops within the required time frame . . . The last date of destroying all tobacco plants in seed-beds shall be January 10, 2022," said the Minister in a statement yesterday.

"All tobacco growers are required to adhere to all other legislated dates to prevent and reduce carry-over of diseases and pests."

Minister Masuka said all farmers were required to have cleared tobacco grading sheds and storage facilities by October 31 every year so that the cycle of pests such as the tobacco beetle that eats tobacco when it is in the barn or storage facility is disrupted.

Contravention of regulations requiring the destruction of tobacco plants by a specified date or prohibiting the planting of tobacco plants between specified dates attracted a fine not exceeding $100 for each hectare or part thereof in respect of which the offense is committed or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year or to both.

Tobacco is one of the major foreign currency earners for the country after gold, contributing nearly US$800 million annually. However, most of the tobacco proceeds, as has emerged, have been enjoyed offshore as the financiers repatriated their profits.

As such, in his 2021 National Budget Statement Finance and Economic Development Minister Prof Mthuli Ncube, said local financial resources were critical to fund tobacco if the country was to maximise value.

"In order to ensure the country derives maximum value from tobacco farming, the country will be utilising more domestic financing facilities to finance tobacco farming activities as opposed to foreign loans in order to maximise foreign currency earnings from the sub-sector," said Minister Ncube.

Zimbabwe Tobacco Association chief executive officer Rodney Ambrose, recently said there was need to restore the viability of the auction system to insulate farmers from all kinds of abuse by the merchants.

"We need to return to a system where farmers self-finance themselves so that the auction system remains viable," said Ambrose recently.

"We cannot have a situation where contractors determine the price of inputs, the price of extension services; the prices of the final product.

"This leaves farmers in debt. Besides, the contract system is not healthy in terms of foreign currency generation."

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