Tobacco sector growth epitomises success of land reform programme

Edgar Vhera

Agriculture Specialist Writer

THE phenomenal increase in the number of tobacco growers, backed by rising production records and foreign currency earnings over the past 23 years, are a testimony of the success of Government’s land reform programme.

This was the general consensus at last week’s Zimpapers tobacco conference organised by the Business Weekly and its partners, as various speakers reflected on the achievements of the tobacco industry from 2001 to date.

The conference ran under the theme: “Sustainable tobacco growing, financing and development towards vision 2030.”

Statistics released by TIMB show that between 1980 and 1990 tobacco was grown by an average of 1 400 farmers and 4 400 in the period 1990 to 2000.

At the advent of the land resettlement exercise of 2000, the average number of tobacco farmers surged 485 percent to 25 922 for the period 2001 and 2010. It increased a further 285 percent to 100 000 in the period 2011 to 2020.

Between 2021 and 2023, the number of growers grew 35 percent to 135 000 to show the continued influence of tobacco in the country’s economy.

Apart from growers, the area planted rose 53 percent from 76 017 hectares in 2001 to 116 454 in 2023. A similar trend was exhibited in mass sold under both the contract and auction systems. The mass sold increased 46 percent from 203 million kilogrammes in 2001 to 296 million kg in 2023.

Similarly, the earnings that farmers pocketed also rose by 152 percent from US$356 million in 2010 to US$897 million in 2023.

Just in 2023, the country earned US$1,3 billion from tobacco product exports, a 30 percent surge from US$1 billion in 2022, although farmers believe the high earnings were not filtering to their ranks too.

“The huge gap between what ends in the farmer’s pocket and what exporters take home is a big anomaly that needs to be addressed. Participation of farmers in the value addition chain needs to be enhanced by making sure they take ownership of the crop all the way to the market,” Zimbabwe Tobacco Growers Association (ZTGA) chairman Mr George Seremwe said.

“The grower is the weakest link in this matrix and needs protection from Government,” concurred Zimbabwe Progressive Tobacco Farmers Association (ZPTFA) president Mr Mutasa Mutandwa.

“TIMB needs to thoroughly monitor contractors as per the compliance administration framework in order to find out what inputs have been given to farmers versus the crop they are buying.

“Our crop is fetching high prices on the international market, as it is used as a blender, but the farmer is not benefiting. There is need for massive investment in tobacco processing plants to increase exports of high-priced manufactured products,” explained the ZPTFA president.

Between 2021 and 2023, the number of tobacco growers grew 35 percent to 135 000 (File picture)

Meanwhile, the rising production of flue-cured tobacco witnessed from 2010 to date, after a slump in yields to 100 000 tonnes per annum between 2003 and 2009, portrays the success of the land reform programme due to sheer determination and gain in experience by the newly resettled farmers.

The tobacco value chain contributes significantly to agriculture gross domestic product (GDP) and export revenues thereby aiding national economic growth. Tobacco production supports up to 160 000 households and accounts for more than 50 percent of agricultural exports and between 14 and 20 percent of the agriculture GDP. It also contributes between five and 10 percent of the national GDP.

Zimbabwe is ranked sixth after China, India, Brazil, the United States and Indonesia on the list of top tobacco producing countries based on 2022 figures, though it still remains number one in Africa.

In an endeavour to increase profitability of crop the Government crafted the Tobacco Value Chain Transformation Plan (TVCTP) in 2021 which seeks to achieve a US$5 billion tobacco industry by 2025.

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