ZIMBABWE - Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board chairperson Monica Chinamasa on Tuesday said Zimbabwe is likely to register a 20 percent decline in the golden leaf production this year due to the El Nino effect.
This means that the country’s tobacco production which reached a peak of 210 million kilogrammes (kg) in 2014 is on the back foot again after it declined to 198 million kg last year due to lack of a supporting and conducive environment for small-scale farmers.
It must be noted that tobacco — one of the cash crops produced by most smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe — has over the past few years become the lifeblood to many people in the country following the collapse of the formal sector.
The crop has not only improved the living standards of the farmers as it attracts a considerably higher selling price compared to other cash crops such as cotton, but has also resulted in the establishment of a vibrant downstream economy.
Historically, this crop was the single most important export commodity in the economy and has dominated value of agricultural production from the late 1920s up to the late 1990s accounting for about 30 percent formal employment and manufacturing contributing 16 percent to the economy.
However, tobacco’s production was significantly disturbed by the chaotic and often violent land reform exercise at the turn of the century that saw close to 4 000 commercial farmers losing their land.
The coming in of the Inclusive Government in 2009 — largely responsible for ushering in economic and political stability — saw agriculture production rebounding.
Data from the African Economic Outlook revealed that agricultural output rose 15 percent in 2009 and 34 percent in 2010, largely from the increased tobacco output.
The latest trends showing the reversal of tobacco production is a cause for concern to all stakeholders in Zimbabwe as it is likely to impact on the country’s already precarious food situation.
This is because food security is not only about the abundance of food but affordability as well and this requires cash which farmers can get from tobacco production.
What is important at this stage is for the government to put in place measures aimed at boosting tobacco production for real economic empowerment of farmers. At the moment, due to an absence of a land market and lack of collateral, most farmers are failing to secure loans for proper land preparations.
As such, the government must see to it that land and agriculture becomes commercial again by negotiating with banks to give financial support to deserving local companies.