Oliver Kazunga Bulawayo Bureau
The Matabeleland region, which until now was not known for growing tobacco, is set to break new ground, with various organisations encouraging farmers in the area to get hooked onto the foreign currency-earning crop. These efforts are expected to diversify tobacco production and increase yields, in the process earning the country more foreign currency.
The Matabeleland region is predominantly known for livestock production.
Diversfied agro-based concern, Mhuri Farming, is the latest organisation that is taking a go at encouraging tobacco production in Matabeleland.
The organisation is planning to roll out a tobacco seedling-growing scheme in the region and sell the idea of tobacco growing to farmers.
But Mhuri Farming has to overcome a number of obstacles if it is to succeed in this endeavour.
The region is generally dry, raising the need for irrigation if the tobacco crop is going to be of good quality.
There is also no marketing infrastructure in Matabeleland, making it a little bit expensive for farmers to transport their crop to the auction floors in Harare, more than 440 kilometres away.
Already, the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) has indicated that some farmers from the Matabeleland region were slowly venturing into the production of the golden leaf.
In 2013, Government and the Kutsaga Research Station launched the Tobacco Improved Productivity Sites (TIPS) aimed to geographically spread tobacco production to non-traditional growing areas, including Matabeleland.
But only 26 hectares of tobacco were grown in Matabeleland in 2014.
Mhuri Farming chief executive Mr Pardon Mhuri said they were doing all they could to address some of the problems facing tobacco farmers in the Matabeleland region, with a technical team already on the ground seeking land for farming the crop.
He was speaking in an interview after the launch of a US$200 000 tobacco seedling-growing programme in Karoi on Friday last week.
Mr Mhuri said the team was also identifying existing and prospective tobacco farmers they could supply with quality seedlings to enhance production of the crop.
“We have sent our technical guys in Matabeleland region to assess areas where we can get land for tobacco,” said Mr Mhuri.
“Currently, they are compiling a report on areas with good soils for tobacco farming, as well as identifying existing and prospective tobacco farmers that we can work with to enhance the quality of their crop by providing good quality seedlings.”
Mr Mhuri said their company ventured into the tobacco seedling-growing scheme to provide the farmers with high quality crop. The company intended to expand the seedling-growing project to all tobacco-growing regions in the country, which include Mashonaland Central, Mashonaland East, Manicaland, Midlands and Masvingo provinces.
According to TIMB, the country has over 180 000 registered tobacco growers.
Mr Mhuri said good quality seedlings were critical in the tobacco growing process as they determined the yield and quality of the crop, which in turn had an impact on the farmer’s revenue.
He said his organisation was taking sustainable farming practices seriously and was giving every seedling buyer 400 gumtree seedlings to plant in their respective communities.
Farmers commended Mhuri Farming for coming up with the initiative, saying it would go a long way in improving the quality and yield of their crop.
Mr Japhet Chidarikire of Village 5 in Karoi, said: “I feel excited about the launch of the tobacco seedling growing scheme and as farmers we hope this season we will be able to secure quality seedlings courtesy of Mhuri Farming.”
Another farmer, Mrs Merenia Kadema, said the provision of 400 gumtrees to every farmer by Mhuri Farming would go a long way in addressing the challenges of deforestation. Tobacco is Zimbabwe’s second largest export after gold and has over the years been pivotal in supporting liquidity in the economy.
The crop accounts for 15 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product and 25 percent of total exports.
Zimbabwe exports the golden leaf to over 60 countries around the world, with the major consumers of flue-cured tobacco being China, United Arab Emirates, Belgium, Indonesia, and South Africa.
TIMB statistics show that 259 million kg of tobacco were delivered to the auction floors this year compared to 253 million kg in 2018.