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Tobacco farming transforms Zimbabweans' lives

by Nobleman Runyanga
17 Sep 2017 at 17:22hrs | Views
Thomas Chakauya (not his real name) from Odzi Farm in Odzi, Manicaland Province of Zimbabwe has just sold his tobacco crop and has managed to roof the five-roomed house, which he started building two years ago. This tobacco marketing season he also managed to buy a tobacco baler and two oxen to boost his draught power.  Since he embarked on tobacco growing five years ago, Chakauya's life has improved markedly.

Chakauya completed his Ordinary Level studies at the Jechera Secondary School in the nearby resettlement area. He passed three subjects namely ChiShona language, Agriculture and Bible Knowledge and his elderly parents could not afford to raise money to enable him to re-write his examinations which would enable him to secure a place at the Magamba Vocational Training Centre in the District to pursue studies in Agriculture. His lifeline was the introduction of contract tobacco farming in the Odzi area by the Harare-based Mashonaland Tobacco Company in 2012. Since then his life was transformed from that of a poor unemployed and hopeless boy into young man whose life now has a defined direction. While a few years ago he had resigned to fate, today he has great plans for his future.

According to Chakauya's ChiManyika tradition, the last male child in a family inherits his parents' homestead and land. Being the last boy child in his family, Chakauya naturally used part of his parents' 10 hectare plot to embark on his tobacco-growing venture when he joined contract farming. Today, the piece of land is no longer sufficient and this has forced him to rent additional pieces of land from other farmers around him. He has since applied to the Ministry of Lands and Rural Resettlement for a bigger piece of land to enable him to realise his dream of becoming one of the biggest tobacco farmers in the country.

Chakauya's success story is one of many that other tobacco farmers have experienced which has seen their lives being transformed by growing the golden leaf following the land reform programme, which Government of Zimbabwe undertook in 2000. Under the programme, whose aim was to correct the land ownership imbalances of the colonial era, Government re-distributed over 17.3 million hectares of prime land which was occupied by about 4 000 white farmers. This benefitted over 300 000 families.

The land reform programme has not only transferred ownership of land from whites to blacks but changed the complexion of the tobacco growing sector as well. Today, people such as Chakauya dominate the sector. The sector was briefly set back by the lack of funding during the early 2000s but with the introduction of contract farming by companies such as Mashonaland Tobacco Company, British American Tobacco Zimbabwe and others in 2005, the sector has fast recovered lost ground. For example, the 2017 tobacco marketing season saw 186.3 million kilogrammes of the golden leaf worth US$557 million going under the hammer, which is 41.7 million kilogrammes shy of the 228 million kilogrammes realised at the peak of the sector in 2000. This points to the fact that the sector is growing fast despite the illegal economic sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe by the West.

This growth has been underpinned by a number of factors which include increased funding access by the companies that are supporting contract farming as well as the technical support provided by Government agronomists through the Department of Agricultural Research and Extension Services (AREX). Some of the contracting companies also provide their own agronomists, an arrangement which has helped people like Chakauya, who have no formal training in agriculture let alone a specialist area such as tobacco farming. Although the quality of the tobacco was initially low and fetched low prices, which frustrated the farmers, this has improved significantly over the years.

The tobacco industry sector continues to grow if some of the figures from the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) are anything to go by. Over the years, the number of registered growers has grown steadily and now stands at over 80 000 as at the end of August 2017 compared to a few hundred during the early 2000s. Even the tobacco hectarage has been on a growth trajectory. For example 34 400 hectares have been put under tobacco in 2017 compared to 31 94 hectares in 2016. The number of new growers has also increased from 10 869 as at August 2016 to 23 210 at the end of August 2017. The introduction of a 5 percent export incentive by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe in November 2016 has partly spurred this increased hectarage.

The various initiatives have enabled Zimbabwe to maintain its pole position in Africa as the largest tobacco grower. Globally, it is the 6th largest grower of the golden leaf, which it exports to various countries such as China, America, Britain and South Africa among others.

It is such life-transforming experiences, which are brought about by President Robert Mugabe's empowerment policies that see members of his ruling party, ZANU PF, retaining him to lead them every elective congress. It is such game-changing initiatives that cause the majority of Zimbabweans to vote him into power every five years.

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Source - Nobleman Runyanga