THE growing of the golden leaf has become the “in thing” in the country’s agricultural sector post dollarisation in 2009.
Report by Victoria Mtomba
A number of farmers have migrated from growing cotton, maize and wheat to tobacco.
The main reason: tobacco farmers, unlike those that grow maize, usually get their cash as soon as they deliver their crop to the auction floors.
Maize farmers have been lamenting how the Grain Marketing Board (GMB) failed to pay them on time after delivering the crop. For months on end every season they have to wait for their payment unlike their tobacco-growing colleagues.
Cotton farmers have been facing challenges of low prices from merchants who contacted them. The merchants were paying as little as $0,35 per kg resulting in many farmers abandoning growing the crop.
The golden leaf has become one of the major revenue earners for the country which has failed to attract lines of credit from world financial institutions due to debt.
Zimbabwe’s agricultural sector used to be diversified with a considerable number of farmers growing maize, cotton, wheat and sugar cane.
The country now has 90 000 tobacco growers through the migration that has been witnessed from the other crops.
During the 1990s, the agriculture sector contributed 18% to the Gross Domestic Product. At its peak in 1998, tobacco exports earned the country close to
$500 million and created over 170 000 jobs directly and through other ancillary industries.
The tobacco sector recorded the lowest yield of 48 million kilogrammes in 2009 following a decade-long economic meltdown.
Production has, however, been on the increase since then to
144 million kilogrammes produced last year, earning the country $527 million. The Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board has projected that 170 million kilogrammes would be auctioned this year.
Farmers interviewed by NewsDay this week indicated that despite the good returns they were getting from tobacco farming, there was need for the government to help farmers with equipment.
Darlington Muronzi, a 38-year-old farmer from Macheke, said he managed to produce 45 bales of tobacco during the just-ended season on three hectares of land that he planted. During a normal season Muronzi said a farmer could pocket $15 000 from three hectares of land.
“We need 15-20 people to assist us with planting. We also need tractors so that we can do our planting effectively,” he said.
Muronzi said the other challenge faced by farmers was that coal used to cure the golden leaf was expensive.
A farmer based in Centenary, Nelson Rukato, who planted one hectare of tobacco under contract farming, said his contractor offers him seed, fertilisers, chemicals and $1 400 every season.
Rukato said he earns $10 000 from tobacco farming, but this year he got less as some of his crops were affected by hailstorm.
Joice Chandengenda of Macheke said the government should offer training to tobacco farmers as most do not have the techniques to farm the crop.
“We try to grow the crop in a proper way and we want to learn how to attain that,” she said.