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Tobacco farming: Counting the cost for rural poor


Tobacco ... Thousands have joined the sector but not everyone is celebrating

19/05/2014 00:00:00
by Byron Mutingwende
 
 
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STATISTICS on the success of tobacco farming – mainly by small-scale farmers resettled on previously white-owned commercial farms - make interesting reading. However, there are hidden costs shouldered by the poor that remain untold to this day.

For close to a decade, most resettled farmers struggled to grow the traditional staple maize crop to feed their families and have a surplus for sell to the national grain reserve, Grain Marketing Board (GMB). The few that sold their maize to GMB usually faced headaches in accessing payment for their crops, and more often than not, by the time they would finally get payment, the value of the money would have been eroded by inflation.

The introduction of multiple currencies made the price of tobacco at the auction floors lucrative to most formers compared to other cash crops like cotton and soya beans. For a long time, cotton was the leading crop among most of the new farmers resettled by the government during the controversial land reforms which started around the turn of the millennium in 2000.

However, cotton had flooded the market around 2009 and the crop fetched phenomenally low prices of around US$0, 25 per kg. On the other hand, tobacco fetched as high as $6 per kg during the same period.

Women make in-roads into tobacco farming

Traditionally, women and children provide the bulk of labour on farms but men own the bulk of the land and the means of production. Interestingly in the recent past, some women were allocated land and are also venturing into tobacco farming. The move was interpreted to be a positive move towards women emancipation.

To women who had the privilege of receiving productive commercial farms wrestled from the whites and also enjoying financial power and political connections, tobacco faming has been very lucrative and rewarding.

As early as 2005, Monica Chinamasa, wife to Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa, scooped a Tobacco Grower of the Year award from British American Tobacco, just two years after she had been allocated a commercial farm.

Monica Chinamasa has now risen to be the chairperson of the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) which administers the growing and sale of tobacco countrywide.


Selling season ... Local government minister Ignatius Chombo at one of the auction floors



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Zimbabwe Association of Women Tobacco Farmers (ZAWTF) said that out of 85,006 farmers who registered to grow tobacco during the 2013 to 2014 season, 32 percent were women.

TIMB chief executive, Andrew Matibiri said it was interesting to note that out of about 110,000 small-scale tobacco farmers, about 39,5 percent are women. Matibiri said tobacco farming was a critical sector that contributes significantly to growing the economy and plays a crucial role in the emancipation of women.

"Tobacco farming makes up 26% of our foreign currency exports. We are glad that a significant number of these farmers are women,” said Matibiti.

“Since women constitute more than 52 percent of our population and form the bulk of direct beneficiaries of tobacco farming, we envisage a great improvement in poverty alleviation efforts as enshrined in the country’s economic blueprint, ZIMASSET, through tobacco farming.”

Tobacco farming raises incomes for resettled farmers

At Panorama Farm in Mt. Darwin is a tobacco farmer Edward Maurukira whose success is that of the proverbial “from rags to riches” story. Maurukira reckons that he wasted two decades of his professional life as a relief teacher in Mashonaland Central province until he trained as an agricultural extension officer.

“The knowledge I acquired from the agricultural college is now translating into real success, particularly in tobacco farming. I have a 10 hectare plot that I was allocated under the land reform programme. From this, I put four hectares of land under tobacco and the rest for traditional crops like maize, sorghum and sweet potatoes.

“Tobacco is the most lucrative business since I have managed to buy a two-tonne lorry and a truck as well as a tractor using proceeds from tobacco sales. I was also the consecutive winner of the tobacco growers’ award from Shasha Tobacco for two consecutive years from 2012 to 2013,” Maurukira says.

Shasha Tobacco runs a tobacco contract farming scheme in the area. Maurukira said under the scheme, farmers are given 10 bags of Compound D fertilizer and four bags of Ammonium Nitrate fertilizer per hectare grown.

“With these inputs I earned in excess of $25, 000 per season after the sales from the four hectares I put under tobacco. This is profit factored in after duly repaying the loan from Shasha using the harvested tobacco,” Maurukira said.

Maurukira added that the influx of tobacco farmers at the auction floors in Harare was an indicator that most people had turned to growing the crop to end their financial problems. He said that business was brisk at the Glenview Home Industry where furniture is in high demand mainly from tobacco farmers.

“Gone are the days when farmers used to sleep on reed mats. With money from tobacco, almost every farmer is now sleeping on a decent bed and is able to buy other luxuries like radio and television sets, which appeared to be a preserve for urban dwellers and well-to-do farmers,” Maurukira said.

Financial support key to agricultural sector

But the situation is quite different for other farmers around Maurukira’s farm – most of whom lack a sound financial background and farming knowledge.

Rhoda Bhamusi is widowed and owns the same size of land as Maurukira. When she was allocated the land, she owned two oxen and a plough and had four children doing secondary school.

“When we were given the fertile land we were happy and we used to produce sufficient food for ourselves. However, there was no food to spare for sale since we could only manage to grow crops under a very small piece of land,” she said.

“When others began to grow tobacco, we were lured into growing the same crop since it had huge financial benefits. However, because of lack of know-how and inputs we fared badly and had to go to established tobacco buyers who extend inputs to us under contract farming.”

Bhamusi said inputs were expensive and out of reach to many women like her who had other obligations including paying school fees for their children. As a result, most women and children ended up working on the farms of those with resources for them to be able to raise money for the school fees and inputs.

“In the end we have little time to prepare our own tobacco seedbeds. Often we are the last to harvest and by then the crop would have flooded the auction floors and prices would be very low.

“As a result we will sell more tobacco to the creditors under contract farming who will in the end benefit ahead of us and keep us indebted to them,” Bhamusi said.

Village head for Makunde Village, Percy Masoka under Headman Gumbonjera in the Nhowe area of Murewa district in Mashonaland East Province also grows tobacco at communal level.

He said he was grateful for the established tobacco firms like Mashonaland Tobacco Company for availing inputs to them since tobacco was a money-earning and lucrative cash crop.

“This season alone I was paid $2,000 from the tobacco sales floors thanks to the inputs I got from Dan Villa Tobacco Company that I used carefully on half a hectare of land on which I grew the crop. However, the proceeds could be much higher if the price of fertilizer was affordable.

“Here a 50kg bag of A.N or Compound D fertilizer costs $45 inclusive of transport from Harare. Zimphos must work hard to produce enough fertilizer and government should continue subsiding inputs producers so that prices would be affordable to farmers like us,” Masoka said.

Bright Nyambo, Councillor for Ward 23 in the Nhowe area complained that agro-dealers involved in contract farming services were not providing knowledge on firewood or coal to cure the tobacco. He added that home-made barns were suitable for tobacco curing using firewood, a situation that was leading to the decimation of forests.

Training on best agricultural practices

Statistics from the Forestry Commission of Zimbabwe (FCZ) indicate that about 5,3 million trees are being cut down each year as a part of tobacco production in the country. More worrisome is FCZ data highlighting that Zimbabwe could have lost 15% of its tree cover in the last 15 years to deforestation.

Environment Management Authority (EMA) education and publicity manager, Steady Kangata, said there was need to work with traditional leadership in communal areas like chiefs and local authorities to educate people on the importance of conserving forests and the environment in general.

Agriculture Minister Joseph Made acknowledged that it was necessary to train farmers on best agricultural practices for the land reform programme to be successful.


Farmers need training ... Agriculture minister Joseph Made

He said although their numbers were limited, farmers had to rely on agricultural extension workers in resettlement and communal farms for expertise and advice on farming.

Agricultural economist and tobacco farmer, Peter Gambara said tobacco prices should be based on the grading system. The call follows complaints from farmers that they were getting poor prices for their crop at auction floors and were being duped by unscrupulous dealers who connived with TIMB officials to pay them low prices.

Gambara called on farmers to get training on proper use and application of fertilizers, irrigation, curing and in order to improve the quality of their tobacco and resultantly get higher prices.

“Farmers must enroll for farming courses at agricultural training centres like Dozmery Farmer Training Centre in Macheke and Jamaica Inn Training Centre in Melfort,” Gambara said, urging TIMB to provide personnel for training farmers.

Women and children exploited through tobacco farming

According to Gift Muti, secretary-general of General Agriculture and Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe, workers on resettled farms were paid very low wages which were inadequate to cover their basic needs.

“It is sad to note that workers on the farms are not employed on permanent basis. These are mainly women and children from poor backgrounds. They are hired as and when the need arises.

“Most farmers pay between $2 and $3 for eight hours of hard labour for either cultivating or applying chemicals in the fields. This is a far cry from the agreed poverty datum line of around $520,” Muti said.

Health and Child Care Minister, David Parirenyatwa said it was sad to note that due to economic hardships, children were at times forced by the situation to work alongside women on farms as a way of helping to provide for their most immediate needs such as food and shelter.

To this end, Parirenyatwa said that government recently held a “child sensitive social policies” conference in Harare to craft policies that pay attention to the unique needs of children.


Concern about child labour on farms ... Health Minister David Parirenyatwa

“We should combine efforts towards complying with the provisions set in international child rights instruments such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the child.

“It is sad to note that Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest number of children orphaned by AIDS, as well as the highest incidence of child labour, child mortality and malnutrition among other such worst indicators in the world.

“Some may ask ‘according to whose standards?’. The task at hand therefore is to come up with solutions that best suit the unique situations of African children, at the same time upholding the fundamental children’s rights principles,” Parirenyatewa said.

According to United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), an estimated 218 million children aged 5-17 are engaged in child labour, excluding child domestic labour. Some 126 million of these children are believed to be engaged in hazardous situations or conditions, such as working in mines, working with chemicals and pesticides in agriculture or working with dangerous machinery.

“I am against the oppression of women and children in all spheres of life. I urge the government and relevant stakeholders to take appropriate action to guard against exploitation of women and children on the farms and ensure their safety and well-being,” said Grace Chirenje, director of Zimbabwe Young Women Network for Peace Building Project.


 
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