Tobacco farming: Counting the cost for rural poor Tobacco … Thousands have joined the sector but not everyone is celebrating

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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