THE Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) has said that farmers should access funding in order to boost production levels for the country.
BY KUDZAI CHIMHANGWA
Zimbabwe missed the 170 million kg tobacco production target which the board had previously set, instead raking in 165 million kgs.
TIMB chairperson, Monica Chinamasa said although output slightly fell short of target, the board was relatively satisfied with the increased volumes of the golden leaf that went under the hammer.
“We need funding. Farmers are just not getting any funding to boost production levels, this development has impacted negatively on tobacco production,” Chinamasa said.
“Another factor was the weather, in particular the rains which are unpredictable. With regard to marketing, the facilities were more than adequate, we had three auction floors which were able to handle the volumes.”
Tobacco remains the country’s biggest agricultural export, spurred by high international prices for the crop.
Demand for the crop from countries such as South Africa, China and the United Arab Emirates has been the fundamental reason behind the rise of the small holder tobacco farmer.
However, funding continues to be a major challenge for farmers, as the liquidity crunch and to a larger extent lack of clarity surrounding 99-year land leases continue to deter banks from funding the sector.
Tobacco Association of Zimbabwe president, Temba Mliswa took a swipe at international companies involved in tobacco production, arguing that if they could repatriate the money from sales, the farmers’ liquidity situation would be slightly better.
“Tobacco is a self-financing crop, it is a cash crop. International companies are not repatriating the monies earned from the sale of the crop,” said Mliswa. “The key question is, how much of it [money] is coming back to Zimbabwe, compared to how much has been made.”
In 2000, government embarked on a land reform programme and seized white-owned commercial farms to parcel out to landless indigenous Zimbabweans.
Before the land reform programme was implemented, most of the tobacco farmers were characteristically white with operations on a much larger scale.
According to the Zimbabwe Tobacco Association, the country reached its peak tobacco production levels in the year 2000 at 236 715 481kgs, with 8 531 growers.
In 2013, 165 million kgs were produced with an estimated 75 000 growers.
Economist John Robertson said the dynamics in the tobacco growing sector have greatly shifted.
“Back in the days farmers could easily approach banks, pledge their title deeds and access loans to fund their crops.
“Farmers could then come up with a viable cropping programme after banks were satisfied with the farmers’ previous track record of performance,” he said.
Robertson said one has to be a very good farmer in order to cope with the demands of borrowed money.
“You can’t grow a cash crop if you don’t have the money to pay for the inputs,” he said.