Elita Chikwati Agriculture Reporter
Government has called on farmers and merchants to diversify their agricultural activities to safeguard livelihoods and the economy as tobacco production comes under threat from an anti-smoking lobby being spearheaded by the Framework Convention in Tobacco Control.

The lobby group is under the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Minister Dr Joseph Made said this at the closure of the 2015 marketing season and national tobacco workshop.

Dr Made said Government was aware of the challenges being faced in the tobacco sector and was working with other countries to safeguard the industry.

“The emergence of the nicotine delivery systems and electronic cigarettes to replace traditional cigarettes is also raising many questions about the sustainability of tobacco cultivation.

“Government will continue to work with other countries to ensure that the tobacco industry is not to be unnecessarily disturbed, leaving the livelihoods of our farmers and the economy endangered.

“My ministry has continued its efforts for the promotion of agricultural diversification by promoting the production of other commodities which include cotton, horticulture, tea, cassava, soyabeans, groundnuts and other legumes to diversify the agricultural export base,” he said.

Government is also working towards reviving the cotton sector by reconstituting the Cotton Marketing Board to improve marketing opportunities and viability in the cotton sector and support livelihoods of farmers in marginal rainfall areas.

The workshop was running under the theme “Promoting Viability, Quality, Sustainability and Adapting to Climate Change”.

Dr Made said the theme was relevant to the main issues affecting the tobacco industry and other agricultural sectors in Zimbabwe.

“The recent 10-point plan as enunciated by President Mugabe in his latest State of the Nation Address, is very clear on the need to revitalise agriculture and the agro-processing value chain.

“I applaud the efforts made by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development together with the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe who negotiated with banks to lower the interest rates,” he said.

TIMB chairperson Mrs Monica Chinamasa expressed concern over the decline in tobacco prices from an all-time high of $3,67 per kg in 2013 to $2,95 per kg in 2015.

She advised farmers to enhance their earnings through increased productivity and quality.

“Unfortunately for growers, it is not easy to simply increase the yield, and quality under the current unfavourable economic environment where some inputs and labour are seemingly overpriced.

“The situation is made worse by a depressed electricity supply situation that forces growers to run generators for extended periods and thereby increasing the costs of production,” she said.

She said tobacco growers required training on production and applauded contractors for offering extension and training services to farmers.

Mrs Chinamasa said since last year, TIMB and Farmers’ Development Trust had also been offering growers training on all important aspects of tobacco production.

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