STAKEHOLDERS in the farming town of Karoi, Mashonaland West province, have raised concern over tobacco companies which are neglecting their corporate social responsibilities after making huge profits from proceeds of the golden leaf.
Speaking during a community stakeholders engagement meeting facilitated by Pastors Fraternity and Hurungwe Community Radio with support from the Media Centre, participants called on tobacco companies and merchants to plough back into communities which are helping boost production of one of the country’s top foreign currency earners.
Karoi Urban Residents Association chairperson Trymore Chinembiri said: “The tobacco companies flock to Karoi during the tobacco season, but there is nothing tangible on the development of our town. None of them are paying back to the communities in terms of development and it is shameful.”
He called on the Karoi Town Council to step up efforts to correct the “poor business approach” by tobacco companies.
“As a community, we implore these companies to plough back into the community. Locally, we want toilets built by these companies, bins donated to ease waste (management), among other challenges,” Chinembiri said.
He said tobacco companies could help to install solar-powered boreholes in the central business district.
Council chairperson Kudakwashe Chigumo said there was need to engage all tobacco companies operating in the farming town.
‘‘It is critical that our town moves out of its ghost status due to the neglect by these tobacco companies. Karoi and Hurungwe district councils have nothing to show off besides producing world-class tobacco,” Chigumo said.
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“We need to work together to achieve it with tobacco companies playing their role. As council, we want to engage the Tobacco Industry Marketing Board (TIMB) on our industrial park, where all tobacco companies will be located.
“Secondly, these tobacco companies must give back to the communities and play a critical role in lifting our living standards. This will enhance development and make our town a better place to be.”
Media Centre director Enerst Mudzengi said such engagement platforms helped communities to understand the challenges they face and how they can be solved.
“Every community has challenges and solutions. We hope these meetings will be done regularly, with duty bearers so that they are accountable,” he said.
Zimbabwe Tobacco Growers Association president George Seremwe agreed that there was need to work on modalities to help communities producing tobacco.
“Tobacco companies are guilty of environmental degradation due to deforestation. We are planning for coal use, but at a cheaper price for farmers while rehabilitating our forests,” he said.
“These companies must be accountable and help communities through cooperate social responsibility that enhances development in our communities.
“This is long overdue to make these companies account for what profits they make from tobacco earnings annually. We are engaging TIMB for holistic approach and bring sanity whereby farmers and every player benefit.”
Tobacco exports reached 153 million kg worth over US$758 million this year following a 28% increase in export earnings from tobacco products.
Zimbabwe exports partly or whole stemmed and stripped tobacco, tobacco refuse, cigars, cheroots and cigarillos containing tobacco, cigarettes and manufactured tobacco.
Statistics indicate that Zimbabwe is the largest grower of tobacco in Africa and is ranked sixth, globally after China, India, Brazil, the United States and Indonesia.
The country produced 297 million kg of tobacco in 2022/23 compared to 206 million kg produced in the 2021/22 season.