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Tobacco record crop makes Zim a global player of significance

Zimbabwe’s land reform has proved to be a success following a record tobacco crop produced last season with 85 percent of the crop coming from smallholder farmers of which 60 percent are beneficiaries of the programme.

This season farmers produced 297 million kg of tobacco compared to 203 million kg sold last year.

Zimbabwe is moving ahead on several fronts to ensure that the land reform  becomes a success by making sure farmers have the inputs and backing to push production to new heights, far higher than what was produced before the exercise.

This is the major milestone in the history of Zimbabwe since tobacco growing started.

Recently, Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development Permanent Secretary Professor Obert Jiri indicated that there is a need to consolidate the gains of the land reform programme adding that the land reform, which gave a lot of farmers access to land, has been matched with the Agriculture and Food Systems Transformation Strategy which ensures they can use that land effectively to increase production.

Various measures have put in place to ensure that the season becomes a success. These include contract farming aimed at supporting local farmers with key inputs.

In addition, the Second Republic has also implemented irrigation rehabilitation programmes, soil and water conservation initiatives among a host of others that have increased output.

There was favourable rainfall patterns in some of the country’s tobacco-farming regions contributing to the successful of the season.

A number of tobacco growers have contemplated shifting to other cash crops especially due to the challenges they face when selling their crop. The issue of delayed payments, middlemen and high inputs costs for contracted growers come into play.

In 2021, the ministry developed a Tobacco Value Chain Transformation Plan (TVCTP) (2021- 2025), which seeks to secure the future and consolidate the important role of the tobacco value chain to agriculture and the economy through: Sustainable intensification of tobacco production to 300 million kilogrammes, enhancing transparency and fair tobacco marketing and expanding into new markets in the Middle East.

The plan also seeks to reform, restructure and rebuild the existing institutions in order to optimise tobacco value chain financing so as to raise and optimise the net export benefits from tobacco from the current 12,5 percent of exports to 70 percent by 2025; Increasing tobacco value addition and beneficiation from the current 2 percent to 30 percent by 2025.

Tobacco export earnings also increased by 30 percent in 2022 when the country earned US$991 million compared to the US$763 million recorded in 2020.

To date over US$1,2 billion has so far been earned from tobacco exports.

The number of registered farmers increased by 23 percent from 123 595 in 2022 to 152 045 in 2023. The exciting fact is that from the total increase, about 3 309, constituting 12 percent, are new growers.

Attraction of new growers is a good indication of how lucrative the value chain has become through robust governing frameworks, a guaranteed market, consistent Government and stakeholder support.

The ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development through its key arms and strategic partners, is actively engaged in afforestation and re-afforestation programmes.

Sustainable Afforestation Association (SAA) members are self-levying and establishing woodlots. Farmers who are still using wood-powered barns are encouraged to use wood from established woodlots and adopt usage of efficient curing facilities. Under the TIMB and Sustainable Afforestation Association’s tree-growing support programme, 400 hectares of fast-growing tree species have been established in Mashonaland East, Mashonaland West and Manicaland. There is also a deliberate move to develop and promote use of fuel-efficient curing facilities (construction of rocket barns), coupled with conscientising farmers on using coal as opposed to wood to cure tobacco.

The exports are targeted at more than 40 different countries in five continents. China is the largest export destination, accounting for between 40 and 45 percent of total tobacco exports.

The role and potential of the sector to stir economic growth and subsequent transformation of livelihoods for Zimbabweans is massively significant.

Prior to the land reform programme, more than 95 percent of the total national flue-cured tobacco came from the large-scale farming community.

To promote inclusive growth post-land reform, deliberate efforts have so far been made to enhance the participation of small-scale farmers in tobacco production

Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) has several certified Trainers/ Farm Assurers who will be employing smart farming solutions during the 2023/24 production season to guide willing farmers to produce food and fibre crops that meet global export standards.

The intention of diversification, therefore, is not to outrightly substitute the tobacco enterprise but to complement it while sustaining and improving farmers’ livelihoods and promoting sustainability.

Zimbabwe produces six percent of the world’s tobacco and getting US$1,65 billion at most. Government has also set a target of increasing production to 300 million kg per year and transforming the tobacco sector into a US$5 billion industry by 2025 and an additional US$10 billion by 2030.

The country has enough tobacco seed to cater for the next eight years, which is encouraging for a nation that wants to increase production.

Smallholder farmers are growing massive amounts of tobacco, mainly on land they were allocated under the land reform programme and the majority of them are earning more than they ever dreamed.

At the height of white -dominated farming activity the country produced around 200 million kilograms of tobacco and land reform critics for years doubted the potential of smallholder farmers.

With perseverance and support from the Second Republic, smallholder farmers have surpassed expectations quashing critics of the land reform.

Production levels are growing each year and hopes are high that the levels would breeze past what was produced 40 years ago.

Herald

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