The Tobacco Industry Development Support Institute (TIDSI) for Southern Africa has hailed contract farming, as it has improved the quality and quantity of tobacco.
TIDSI executive director Jeffrey Takawira told NewsDay yesterday that there had been a marked improvement in this year’s crop, largely because 85% of the tobacco crop was now under contract.
“Most of the tobacco contractors in Zimbabwe have sustainable tobacco production programmes, thereby promoting good agricultural practices. That way, our farmers continue to receive critical tobacco production skills and such capacity building initiatives are very much welcome,” Takawira said.
“We have also noticed increased plantings by hitherto non-tobacco growers and this is a sign of confidence exhibited by most of the farmers.”
Takawira said they have also noted that the Tobacco Industry Marketing Board (TIMB) has a very popular input and infrastructural support scheme and their intervention has been timely as the inputs were distributed well on time.
“It is important to note that the down side of these positives has been an increase in the cutting down of trees as tobacco farmers seek wood for the curing of their crop in readiness for the market,” he said.
“Government has been mum on the tobacco levy they collect, some of which is meant for reforestation programmes in the countryside. There are other efforts currently underway on the reforestation initiative, but the demand for energy source far outweighs replenishment efforts.”
However, TIMB spokesperson Isheunesu Moyo said the TIDSI was not licensed under them, raising questions on whether they could comment on tobacco issues.
“We license merchants, contractors, fumigators, suppliers of hessian wrap and growers of which they do not fall in these categories,” he said.
But, Takawira’s response was: “We do not have to be registered with the TIMB to talk about tobacco . . . we are an independent lobby group registered as a Trust with the Deeds office. We have a Notarial Deed of Trust. We do not have to be registered with TIMB.”
Takawira said this year’s tobacco crop has shown encouraging signs in both quality and quantity.
He said the land reform programme despite its other flawed characteristics brought in opportunities for then marginalised farmers that could not access fertile or suitable land to grow the gold leaf.
“Access to land then resulted in a ‘flight’ by farmers towards tobacco a crop for years regarded as the golden leaf. Some had no skills and financial support to grow the crop. Quality was compromised as they rushed to the marketplace with a substandard product,” he said.
The 2018 tobacco output is expected to reach 235 million kilogrammes, while other stakeholders in the industry feel that this year’s output will be the highest in the history of tobacco in the country.
Takawira said there had been a plethora of access to funding initiatives by government, the latest being Women and the Youth Banks.
“But we see minimum appetite to do the same for tobacco growers. This is despite the fact that Tobacco contributes 10% of the country’s GDP (gross domestic product),” he said.
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