George Chisoko Senior Assistant Editor
TOBACCO growers this year pocketed US$650 million from the sale of 200 million kg (200,000,000 kg = 440,924,524 lbs) 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 Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board.
During the year under review, nearly 33 million kg (33,000,000 kg = 72,752,547 lbs) of tobacco was exported to countries across the world, earning the fiscus US$142 million.
As at the end of last month, farmers had sold 204 million kg (204,000,000 kg = 449,743,015 lbs) of tobacco, earning US$647 million, which went directly into their pockets.
The crop volume and earnings should increase by the time mop-up sales close this month.
The boom in tobacco earnings and the expected bumper maize crop harvest bode well for Zim-Asset — the country’s economic blueprint — whose food security and nutrition cluster identifies agricultural productivity as a major pillar of economic revival.
Farmers last season produced 153 million kg (153,000,000 kg = 337,307,261 lbs) and pocketed US$566 million.
What the communal, small-scale and commercial farmers produced this season falls short by only 37 million kg (37,000,000 kg = 81,571,037 lbs) 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 (200,000,000 kg = 440,924,524 lbs) mark, which the white former commercial farmers achieved over decades when they produced 236 million kg (236,000,000 kg = 520,290,939 lbs) in 2000.
The Minister of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Dr Joseph Made last night said: “We have been vindicated as a country. Our detractors thought we would fail to work on the land and that crop production would fall to embarrassing levels. We are indeed endowed as a country from a human resources point of view and have shown to the world that we are a determined people.
“We need to congratulate the farmers, the TIMB and the research board (TRB) for single-handedly producing the crop that has given us great pride.’’
In 2008, tobacco production tumbled to 49 million kg (49,000,000 kg = 108,026,508 lbs) as farmers struggled in an operating environment riddled with sanctions and drying up of funding from banks that had for years assisted white former commercial farmers.
The determination in the farmers to rebound the tobacco sector and push the volumes to three digit figures, saw them working with the TRB, TIMB and contractors to register gradual increases in production over the years.
“The production that our farmers have achieved has broken the myth that our people did not have the farming skills to grow tobacco and that they needed to be commanded by whites. We have shown that we can grow the complicated crop on our own, drawing advice and knowledge from our research and extension teams. There is no doubt that production will reach 210 million kg (210,000,000 kg = 462,970,751 lbs) or more by the time the mop-up sales close,’’ Minister Made said.
The output could have been much more than 204 million kg (204,000,000 kg = 449,743,015 lbs) had farmers been more meticulous in handling the crop.
The poor curing infrastructure, coupled with power losses resulted in the loss of a substantial volume of tobacco.
“We must bear in mind the fact that our farmers produce with little or no irrgation at all yet white farmers produced under 100 percent irrigation. Imagine what would happen to production if all our farmers; communal, small-scale, A1 and A2 would produce under full irrigation; there is no doubt that we would reach 300 million kg (300,000,000 kg = 661,386,787 lbs) or more in tobacco output,’’ Minister Made said.
It was the wish of President Mugabe, Minister Made said, to see the success scored in the tobacco sector being replicated across all crops and the livestock sector.
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.
Zimbabwe National Farmers Union president Mr Garikayi Msika said it needed no economist or rocket scientist to know that given the right operating economic environment “our farmers can never fail the nation when it comes to crop production.’’
“What the farmers have achieved in less than 14 years speaks for itself in terms of their determination to succeed. They have been operating in an adverse economy. They are poorly mechanised and poorly funded yet they are able to rebound the tobacco crop to such commendable levels,’’ he said.