FEATURE: Tobacco auction season brings cheer to smallholder farmers

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By Xinhua

HARARE: Zimbabwe’s tobacco auction season, which started on Wednesday, is bringing joy to smallholder farmers whose livelihoods depend on the cash crop.

Tania Zaranyika, a smallholder farmer from Mvurwi, about 100 kilometers from Harare, is one of the farmers whose tobacco crop will go under the hammer this season at Tobacco Auction Floor in the capital Harare.

“We are expecting to be paid well. This season was challenging, we experienced hailstorms and diseases, but we are expecting this season to go well,” she told Xinhua on the opening day of the auction season.

Another farmer, Kudakwashe Chinyowa, said despite the challenges experienced in the previous farming season, he still expects his hard work to pay off.

“We received excessive rainfall. But I hope my crop will still fetch high prices,” he said.

The golden leaf is considered by many rural households to be a viable way to escape poverty.

In Zimbabwe, small-scale farmers play a vital role in the production of tobacco as they contribute immensely to the volume and quality produced.

More than 133 million kilograms of the 211 million kilograms sold in the 2021 marketing season were produced by small-scale farmers, according to the Tobacco Industry Marketing Board (TIMB).

Zaranyika, who started tobacco farming in 2002, said the golden leaf has been a life-changer.

“Tobacco farming brought a positive change in my life because now I can send my children to school, purchase household needs, and other necessities,” she said.

After realizing the economic value of tobacco, 38-year-old Peter Mapungu also decided to venture into tobacco farming.

“I studied tobacco farming in school after realizing that tobacco is a crop that can break the cycle of poverty from my parents who were tobacco farmers, so I also ventured into farming, and I can see that it is transforming my life,” said Mapungu.

Rwisai Phiri, a 40-year-old farmer from Darwendale near Harare, picked the skill from his parents.

“I started tobacco farming when I was 20, now I am 40 years. For the twenty years, I have been in tobacco farming, things are going well because I am making good money, I can do what I want on time. I don’t wait for someone to give me the money, I reward myself at the end of every year, and I buy my things whenever I want,” he said.

What makes tobacco more attractive is that farmers are paid in foreign currency which makes investing possible given the rate of inflation in Zimbabwe.

Officially opening the marketing season, Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development Minister Anxious Masuka said the government is aiming to create a conducive environment for tobacco growers.

“And the government has its eyes on the role of tobacco in uplifting likelihood in line with vision 2030, and of course for the much-needed foreign currency that this crop brings to our country,” he said.

To promote tobacco growers, he said this year farmers will be paid 75 percent of their sales proceeds in foreign currency, up from 60 percent last year.

In addition, Masuka said the government is spearheading the Tobacco Value Chain Transformation Plan that aims at transforming the tobacco value chain into a 5 billion U.S. dollar industry by 2025.

The plan, which was availed last year, focuses on increasing primary production to 300 million kg by 2025, localizing financing for small-scale producers, and increasing value addition from the 2 percent of total tobacco produced to over 30 percent.

Historically, tobacco was a preserve for white farmers, and a few thousand commercial farmers produced the bulk of the crop.

But after 2000, Zimbabwe implemented a land reform program that aimed at addressing colonial land imbalances by redistributing land to blacks.

Two decades after the land reform, the number of black growers, mainly small-scale, has risen to more than 120,000.

Among them, young farmers like Phiri are part of Zimbabwe’s agriculture renaissance.

“When the land reform issue came, as young farmers, we were happy because we were given the land, we can now cultivate tobacco, we are now bringing tobacco to the floors like now black farmers are the ones who are bringing more tobacco to the market,” he said.

However, he said the main challenge facing resettled farmers is the issue of inputs.

“When it comes to inputs, we are facing challenges because fertilizers are expensive. At times, you cultivate a good crop, but you find fertilizer very expensive, but as a farmer, you find your ways,” he said.

Tobacco is Zimbabwe’s second foreign currency earner after gold, with China and South Africa being the major buyers of the golden leaf.

Last year, the southern African country sold 211 million kg of tobacco leaf valued at more than 500 million U.S. dollars. This makes Zimbabwe one of the largest producers of the golden leaf in Africa.