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Killing “the farmer” that grows the golden leaf

EVERY year around this time, a hype of activity characterises the economy as our hard-working farmers ship to the market the country’s most valuable export crop — tobacco.

Editorial Comment

EVERY year around this time, a hype of activity characterises the economy as our hard-working farmers ship to the market the country’s most valuable export crop — tobacco. Ever since the crop started being commercially grown 109 years ago, it has deservedly earned the name Golden Leaf because it has sustained Zimbabwe’s economy in good and bad times.

For most of the past century the crop has, however, been grown commercially by mainly white farmers despite the fact that the white farmers, who settled here in the 1880s, found indigenous people already growing the crop which they called Nyoka. The invading colonialists saw great value in this crop and never shared the secret for generations.

Fortunately, as fate would have it, the indigenous population finally became independent from colonial rule in 1980. And since then, black farmers have been slowly waking up and warming up to the lucrative tobacco growing business to a point where today, the country is Africa’s biggest producer of tobacco, with more than 100 000 farmers now tilling the leaf. In 2000, only 1 500 farmers were commercially growing the crop, and that number rose to nearly 170 000 for the current season. In 2016 alone, the farmers generated nearly a billion dollars in foreign currency.

Despite the obvious priceless significance of this group of people to our very survival, the government of the day appears to be unaware of their importance. After promising to pay golden leaf producers at 50% hard currency and 50% local currency, our most able government has decided to pay them 100% in local currency. Our government has told the farmers that if they want the hard currency that they have generated themselves, they will have to buy it at the prevailing 1:2,75 to the US dollar rate. Please pardon us for expressing our utter disgust at this ludicrous arrangement. This is absolute nonsense!

How can government expect someone to buy back money they have sweated for, at whatever rate for that matter? This arrangement sounds like daylight robbery and is so grossly unfair to the extent that this will effectively kill the goose that has been laying the golden eggs for the country all these past decades. Honestly, how will these farmers be motivated to grow the crop next season if they are being forced to buy back money they have devotedly earned? Even then, they are compelled to produce foreign invoices to prove that they need the money! What chicanery is this?

It becomes quite difficult for some of us to understand the logic behind government’s brazen about turn. In our view, that is literally stabbing the farmers in the back. If the government had at least reconfigured the payment arrangement to maybe 40% hard currency and 60% local currency, we may have understood that they desperately need the foreign currency to patch up the tattered economy. But grabbing everything that the farmers have sweated for and asking them to buy it back extinguishes all the goodwill the farmers may have had.