Downplaying the rise of Zimbabwe's tobacco output

Oct 30, 2010

Thousands of Zimbabwe's new farmers have found there is serious money to be made in growing tobacco. For years the 'international media' has frequently given great detail about production decline in Zimbabwe's agriculture in the wake of its land reform. It seems odd, therefore, that there has been so little news about what one would think would be good news; the beginning of the recovery of several sectors, perhaps led by tobacco. Hopefully it's not a case of 'no good news about Zimbabwe is news,' although in certain quarters that might very well be the case.

So successful was the 2010 tobacco season that even the normally very agriculture-phobic banks are raising funds to lend to tobacco farmers for the 2011 season. According to a Zimbabwe Independent article (October 28 2010):

 Agricultural Development Bank of Zimbabwe (Agribank) and FBC Bank Ltd  floated tobacco bills worth US$10 million to support tobacco farmers for the 2010/11 season. Agribank says the money raised will be (for) support for tobacco farmers for the growing, curing and transportation of the crop to auction floors next year.

Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board CEO Andrew Matibiri said that tobacco production in Zimbabwe would increase next year as seed sufficient to cover 110 000 hectares had been sold while about 15 000 farmers had so far registered to grow the crop. Last season, 52 000 farmers registered to produce tobacco on 65 000 hectares.

“The number of registered farmers has increased by 80% from last year. The pace at which tobacco seed was being bought showed that farmers were geared to increase production,” he said.

At the close of the auction floors on September 3, more than 120 million kgs of tobacco had been sold with the contract system contributing the bulk of the deliveries. The industry had projected an output of 77 million kg to go under the hammer but this was later revised twice, first to 93 million kgs and then to 114 million kgs.

These are stunning figures from a country with an agricultural sector we have been told for years had 'collapsed.'

The conditions under which tobacco is recovering are quite different from those of several years ago. Now the growers are mostly small to medium scale 'new' black farmers rather than the large scale white farmers of before. Unlike many types of specialized horticulture tobacco is a relatively simple, unfussy crop to grow even by small-holders.

A lot of the tobacco is being snapped up by Chinese rather than Western buyers, another way the sector has changed in the last few years.

The example of the rise of the tobacco sector may not be applicable to all sectors of Zimbabwe's economy, but it certainly does begin to provide the first concrete results of the wholesale shift in agriculture that the country has undergone in the last decade. As with all things to do with Zimbabwe, whether one sees this recovery as a good thing or not depends on one's attitude to The Zimbabwe Crisis. Perhaps this is why the 'international media' has studiously ignored it!


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