Tobacco farming – counting the costs for the rural poor


Tobacco outpaces other cash crops

STATISTICS on the success of tobacco farming — mainly by small-scale farmers resettled on previously white-owned commercial farms make interesting reading. However, there are hidden costs shouldered by the poor that remain untold to this day.

Byron Mutingwende

For close to a decade, most resettled farmers struggled to grow the traditional staple maize crop to feed their families and save enough to sell to the national grain reserve, Grain Marketing Board (GMB).

The few that sold their maize to GMB usually faced headaches in accessing payment for their crops, and more often than not, by the time they would finally get payment, the value would have been eroded by inflation.

The introduction of multiple currencies in which the US Dollar-dominated currencies in circulation in the country made the prices of tobacco at the auction floors lucrative to most farmers compared to other cash crops like cotton and soya beans.

For a long time, cotton was the leading cash crop among most of the new farmers resettled by the government during the controversial land reform programme which started around the turn of the millennium in 2000.

However, cotton had flooded the market around 2009 and the crop fetched phenomenally low prices of around $0,25 per kg on the market.

On the other hand, tobacco fetched as high as $6 per kg during the same period.

Women make in-roads into tobacco farming

Traditionally, women and children provide the bulk of labour on farms, but men own the bulk of the land and the means of production.

Interestingly, in the recent past, some women were allocated land and are also venturing into tobacco farming. This was interpreted to be a positive move towards women emancipation. To women who had the privilege of receiving productive commercial farms wrested from the whites and also enjoy financial power and also political connections, tobacco farming has been very lucrative and rewarding.

As early as 2005, Monica Chinamasa, wife to Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa scooped a Tobacco Grower of the Year award from British American Tobacco, just two years after she had been allocated a commercial farm.

Chinamasa has now risen to be the chairperson of the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) which administers the growing and sale of tobacco countrywide.

Zimbabwe Association of Women Tobacco Farmers (ZAWTF) said that out of 85 006 farmers who registered to grow tobacco during the 2013 to 2014 season 32% were women.

TIMB chief executive, Dr Andrew Matibiri said it was interesting to note that out of about 110 000 small-scale tobacco farmers, about 39,5% are women. Matibiri said tobacco farming was a critical sector that contributes significantly to the growing of the economy and plays a crucial role in the emancipation of women.

“Tobacco farming makes up 26% of our foreign currency exports. We are glad that a significant number of these farmers are women. Since women constitute more than 52% of our population and form the bulk of direct beneficiaries of tobacco farming, we envisage a great improvement in poverty alleviation efforts as enshrined in the country’s economic blueprint, ZimAsset [Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation], through tobacco farming,” Matibiri said.

Tobacco farming raises incomes for resettled farmers

At Panorama Farm, Mt Darwin, is a tobacco farmer Edward Maurukira whose success is that of the proverbial “from rags to riches” story. Maurukira reckons that he wasted two decades of his professional life as a relief teacher in Mashonaland Central province until he trained as an agricultural extension officer.

“The knowledge I acquired from the agricultural college is now translating into real success particularly in tobacco farming.

“I have a 10-hectare plot that I was allocated under the land reform programme. From this, I put four hectares of land under tobacco and the rest for traditional crops like maize, sorghum and sweet potatoes.

“Tobacco is the most lucrative business since I have managed to buy a two-tonne lorry and a truck as well as a tractor using proceeds from tobacco sales. I was also the consecutive winner of the tobacco growers’ award from Shasha Tobacco for two years — 2012 to 2013,” Maurukira says.

Shasha Tobacco runs a tobacco contract farming scheme in the area. Maurukira said under the scheme, farmers are given 10 bags of Compound D fertiliser and four bags of Ammonium Nitrate fertiliser per hectare grown.

“With these inputs I raked in an excess of $25 000 per season after the sales from the four hectares I put under tobacco. This is profit factored in after duly repaying the loan from Shasha using the harvested tobacco,” Maurukira said.

Maurukira added that the influx of tobacco farmers at the auction floors in Harare was an indicator that most people had turned to growing the crop as a panacea to financial problems.

He said that business was high at the Glen View Home Industry where furniture is on high demand mainly from tobacco farmers.

“Gone are the days when farmers used to sleep on reed mats. With money from tobacco, almost every farmer is now sleeping on a decent bed and is able to buy other luxuries like radio and television sets, which appeared to be a preserve for urban dwellers and well-to-do farmers,” Maurukira said.

Financial support for tobacco farmers key to growing agricultural sector

Farmers around Maurukira’s farm — most of whom lack a sound financial background and farming knowledge have not benefited from tobacco farming.
Rhoda Bhamusi is widowed and owns the same size of land as that of Maurukira. When she was allocated the land, she owned two oxen and a plough and had four children doing secondary school.

“When we were given the fertile land we were happy and we used to produce sufficient food for ourselves. However, there was no food to spare for sale since we could only manage to grow crops under a very small piece of land. When others began to grow tobacco, we were lured to growing the same crop since it had huge financial results. However, because of lack of know-how and inputs we fared badly and had to go to established tobacco buyers who extend inputs to us under contract farming,” she said.

Bhamusi said inputs were expensive and out of reach for many women like her who had other obligations including paying school fees for their children. As a result, most women and children ended up working on the farms of those with draught power and money for them to be able to raise money for the school fees and inputs.

“In the end we will have little time to prepare our own tobacco seedbeds. More often, we will be the last to harvest and by then the tobacco would have flooded the auction floors and prices would be very low. As a result we will sell more tobacco to the creditors under contract farming who will in the end benefit ahead of us and keep us indebted to them.”

Makunde Village head, Percy Masoka, under Headman Gumbonjera in the Nhowe area of Murewa district in Mashonaland East Province also grows tobacco at communal level. He said he was grateful for the established tobacco farmers like Mashonaland Tobacco Company for availing inputs to them since tobacco was a money-earning and lucrative cash crop.

“This season alone I was paid $2 000 already from the tobacco sales floors thanks to the inputs I got from Dan Villa Tobacco company that I used carefully on the half hectare of land I grew the crop. However, the proceeds could be much higher if the price of fertiliser was affordable.

“Here, a 50kg bag of AN or Compound D fertiliser costs $45 inclusive of transport costs from Harare. Zimphos must work hard to produce enough fertiliser and government should continue subsiding inputs producers so that prices would be affordable to farmers like us,” Masoka said.

Bright Nyambo, Councillor for Ward 23 in the Nhowe area complained that the agro-dealers who provided contract farming services were not providing knowledge on firewood or coal as sources of energy to cure the tobacco. He added that home-made barns were suitable for tobacco curing using firewood, a situation that was leading to the decimation of forests.

Train tobacco farmers best agricultural practices

Statistics from the Forestry Commission of Zimbabwe (FCZ) indicate that about 5,3 million trees are being cut down each year as part of tobacco production in the country. More worrisome are statistics from FCZ further highlighting that Zimbabwe could have lost 15% of its tree cover in the last 15 years to deforestation.

Environment Management Authority (EMA) education and publicity manager, Steady Kangata, said there was need to work with the traditional leadership in communal areas to educate people on the importance of conserving forests and the environment in general.

Agriculture minister Joseph Made acknowledged that it was necessary to train farmers on best agricultural practices for the land reform programme to be successful.

He said although the number of them was limited, farmers had to rely on agricultural extension workers in resettlement and communal farms for expertise and advice on farming.

Agricultural economist and tobacco farmer Peter Gambara said tobacco prices should be based on the grading system. The call follows complaints from the farmers that they were getting poor prices for their crop at the auction floors and were being duped by unscrupulous dealers who connived with TIMB officials to pay them lowly.

Gambara called on the farmers to get training on proper use and application of fertilisers, irrigation and curing in order to improve the quality of their tobacco and resultantly get higher prices.

“Farmers must enrol for farming courses at agricultural training centres like Dozmery Farmer Training Centre in Macheke and Jamaica Inn Training Centre in Melfort,” Gambara said, urging TIMB to provide personnel for training farmers.

Women, children exploited

According to Gift Muti, secretary-general of General Agriculture and Plantation Workers’ Union of Zimbabwe, farm workers on resettled farms were paid very low wages, inadequate to cover their basic needs.

“It is sad to note that workers on the farms are not employed on a permanent basis. These are mainly women and children from poor backgrounds. They are hired as and when the need arises. Most farmers pay between $2 and $3 for eight hours of hard labour for either cultivating or applying chemicals in the fields. This is a far cry from the agreed poverty datum line of around $520,” Muti said.

Health and Child Care minister David Parirenyatwa said it was sad to note that due to economic hardships, children were at times forced to work alongside women on the farms as a way of helping to provide for their most immediate needs like food and shelter.

To this end, Parirenyatwa said that the government recently held a child sensitive social policies conference in Harare that was meant for stakeholders to craft policies that pay attention to the unique needs of children.

“We should combine efforts towards complying with the provisions set forth in such international child rights instruments like the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the child.

“It is sad to note that Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest number of children orphaned by Aids, as well as the highest incidence of child labour, child mortality and malnutrition among other such worst indicators in the world.

“Some may ask ‘according to whose standards?’. The task at hand therefore is to come up with solutions that best suit the unique situations of African children, at the same time upholding the fundamental children’s rights principles,” Parirenyatwa said.

According to United Nations Children’s Fund, an estimated 218 million children aged 5-17 are engaged in child labour, excluding child domestic labour.

Some 126 million of these children are believed to be engaged in hazardous situations or conditions, such as working in mines, working with chemicals and pesticides in agriculture or working with dangerous machinery.

“I am against the oppression of women and children in all spheres of life. I urge the government and relevant stakeholders to take appropriate action to guard against exploitation of women and children on the farms and ensure their safety and well being,” said Grace Chirenje, director of Zimbabwe Young Women Network for Peace Building Project.


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