Golden times for tobacco farmers

16072014HER-FEA-HAR-01Sydney Kawadza Senior Features Writer
Some years ago, Bothwell and Irene Madzviti had no property that they could call their own. They had to hire cattle from their relatives for draught power every time they wanted to prepare fields for farming activities.


Their homestead in Ndumo Village in Magunje, Mashonaland West, was a cluster of pole and mud huts under thatch.

However, two years after taking up tobacco farming, the couple, in their late 20s, has just completed building their four-roomed house, which is a model of advancement in a rural setting like this one.

In their cattle pen, they have six beasts and roaming around their yard is a couple of goats; all proceeds of a favourable tobacco crop that has changed their fortunes.

The same success story is shared by their neighbours who have taken up tobacco farming.

It is the same story that is replicated as more than 100 000 tobacco farmers across Zimbabwe have made the most of the crop’s huge profits and today are proud owners of trucks, cars, livestock and some houses even in urban areas.

Tobacco farmers, especially communal and A1, have received the loudest cheers for contributing to the gigantic growth recorded in the agriculture sector.

There has been concern that much of that success was not reflecting in their lives.

Common tales coming from the tobacco floors were mainly of farmers competing to marry new wives after every successful sale.

The farmers, especially male, also fell victim to the sisters of the night who prowled the bars next to Boka Tobacco Floors, Southerton and Highfield among the popular spots they frequented during the night.

The unfortunate farmers also fell to “clever boys” who stole their hard earned cash.

Stories also made headlines of farmers who blew their earnings while following the bright lights of Harare.

Some farmers who tried hard to make use of their cash loaded hired trucks with inputs such as seed, fertilisers and equipment such as ploughs, scotch-carts among others in preparation for the following season.

These astute farmers were but a few amid reports of broken down families due to the windfalls realised at the tobacco floors.

The sad background to the boom in the tobacco industry unfortunately came to many people’s minds when news filtered that farmers had once again hit the jackpot in the just ended tobacco selling season.

But the farmers who had over the years been ridiculed for blowing their profits have turned the leaf and getting the plaudits for not only contributing to the success of Zimbabwe’s agrarian revolution and contributing to the country’s economic development but improving their own lives.

Gone are the days when each tobacco selling season was marred by controversies like the suicide of a disgruntled wife of a tobacco farmer who plunders his earnings.

Gone are cases of farmers failing to continue with their activities after squandering their profits as most are busy preparing for the upcoming tobacco production season.

Even traditional leaders are happy that farmers are working for their families, expressing hope that the growers’ personal development would cascade to all levels of the society.

Tobacco farmers in Kapfunde area in Hurungwe District are emerging as serious farmers and people in Ndumo Village are enjoying the fruits of their labour. They have toiled from June of every year working on their tobacco seed beds to the period when they take their produce to floors.

As they prepare for the next season, the farmers are also conducting a rein-check on their achievements after the successful season.

According to village head Mr Ignatius Ndumo there is healthy competition among tobacco farmers as they prepare for the upcoming season.

“The farmers have changed a lot. Where we used to arbitrate on a number of domestic problems after the selling season, we now meet happy families celebrating their latest achievements.

“The farmers are competing on developments on their homesteads with others outdoing each other on buying cars. The farmers now set targets for themselves every season,” he said.

Mr Ndumo said farmers would rather be improving their infrastructure ahead of the forthcoming season.

“The farmers have realised that agriculture is a lifetime enterprise that can transform lives. And as you can see some are building houses while others are working on their seed beds, inputs and even tobacco bans in preparation of the season,” he said.

He acknowledged the growing number of tobacco farmers in his village.

According to the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board, 11 713 farmers from Mashonaland West have sold their tobacco this season.

“Farmers started taking tobacco farming seriously in 2009 when they realised that the crop was a cash earner but the numbers had increased quite significantly by 2012.

“Over the years, we have seen many lives improving significantly especially in the past two years. People have bought cars especially the small trucks that they use to ferry their crops to the market, some have bought cattle while others have built houses,” he said.

Mr Ndumo believes half a hectare was enough to transform one’s life as long as the grower is well versed in the correct agronomic practices at every stage of the crop.

For Bothwell and his wife Irene, they are seized with completing their house in the village while preparing their seed beds.

The couple has decided to conduct their activities together from the planning phase, growing their tobacco and even when they embark on the strenuous long journey to the auction floors in Harare.

“We do not have problems like we heard from others because we do everything together. At the moment we are working on our tobacco seedbed. Our ultimate goal is to build a house in an urban area and put tenants for extra earnings,” Irene said.

The family, besides building their house, has bought six cattle, some goats and chickens.

According to Bothwell, the family has invested $1 500 for the hectare they plan to put under tobacco the coming season.

“We delivered 2 900 kilogrammes of tobacco last season and got around $9 000 at the floors but if the prices were favourable we would have got more. The low prices that were offered this season have a bearing on the next crop,” he said.

The couple, however, believes if farmers could access affordable loans from financial institutions they could increase their hectarage.

“Currently financial institutions do not offer long term loans. The 90-day loans are not conducive for agriculture and some farmers end up getting into contract farming for financial back up. Retailers should also have all the material required for tobacco baling,” Bothwell said.

His cousin, David Madzviti, has also gone into tobacco farming but reckons that agriculture needs proper planning.

“At the moment I am working on my barns which need at least $600 each and there is also need for sheds to stock the tobacco. I also need an engine to draw water for the seedbeds and dry planting where we use water bowsers.

“We still have challenges with tillage equipment,” he said.

David Madzviti said contractors have, however, done a disservice to farmers especially in the late distribution of inputs and funds.

“We fail to have funding in time to engage the labour force while it is very difficult to plan when inputs are distributed late and this has forced farmers to supplement whatever they get from their contractors,” he said.

While acknowledging that the cash crop had changed fortunes for many villagers in Kapfunde, Mr Luke Mutandwa, the village head in Mutandwa Village warned people from losing focus as they enjoy the benefits of tobacco farming.

“We have seen people buying cars, cattle and building new houses but some parents have completely lost focus especially when they have stopped their children from going to school so that they work in their fields.

“Even the children have taken up that mentality that they can do without education as long as they can earn a living through tobacco farming.

“Children should understand that they have a future that has nothing to do with tobacco so there is need to invest in their education,” he said.

Sabhuku Mutandwa said the personal developments should also reflect on the communities.

“As you can see the roads are bad and we need more schools. The local clinic does not have enough medicines so there is a lot that has to be done to improve the area,” he said.

He, however, insisted that parents should invest in the children’s future by funding their education than any other goods.

Tobacco farmers have already started working on their seed beds.

The tobacco planting starts on September 1.

A farmer needs 14 bags of Compound C, 3 bags of Ammonium Nitrate for a hectare of tobacco but many believe a communal farmer can do well with half a hectare of the crop.

“A successful season usually sees a farmer getting an average of 2 500 kilogrammes of tobacco per hectare and according to the prices we experienced in the previous marketing season a farmer can earn up to $10 000,” Mr Ndumo said.

Tobacco growers have so far pocketed $666 million from the sale of 209 million kg of the crop that has gained popularity countrywide.

Unlike in the past when much of the crop was produced by white former commercial farmers, this year’s output came from 106 439 growers registered by the TIMB.

During the year under review, nearly 33 million kg of tobacco was exported to countries across the world, earning the fiscus $142 million.

The crop volume and earnings increases by the time mop-up sales close this month.

Farmers last season produced 153 million kg and pocketed US$566 million.

What the communal, small-scale and commercial farmers produced this season falls short by only 37 million kg of the record crop that the white former commercial farmers produced in 2000 when they dominated the commercial farming landscape.

In less than 14 years after land reform, tobacco farmers have managed to hit the 200 million kg mark, which the white former commercial farmers achieved over decades when they produced 236 million kg in 2000.

It is instructive to note that while some parts of the world seemed united in their opposition to the land reform programme almost all the countries in the world bought Zimbabwe’s tobacco.

The number of tobacco growers continue to grow and the latest figures from the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board indicating that registered farmers increased from a predominantly white farmers of 1 731 growing 83 million kg of the crop.

Zimbabwe’s tobacco output peaked in 2000 when 8 500 farmers delivered more than 230 million kg to the auction floors but the increase in communal farmers registering with the TIMB have also increased prospects of a significant growth in the sector.

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