By Alex Bell
SW Radio Africa
12 May 2014
A new report by the state’s Sunday Mail has indicated that the majority of the country’s tobacco sector is now almost dominated by ‘contract’ farmers.
Contract farming in Zimbabwe’s tobacco sector has seen many foreign groups like Chinese companies, enter into farming deals with local growers who cannot afford inputs and others costs.
Instead of the produce then being auctioned at Zimbabwe’s tobacco auction floors, the stock is sold to the contract holders.
The Sunday Mail report said that 70% of Zimbabwe’s registered tobacco growers this season are operating on contract systems. The report stated that this has put the future of the local auction floors in doubt, because they are auctioning smaller stocks of tobacco every season.
At the same time, the Sunday Mail report said that some self-financing growers are allegedly using banned tobacco treatment chemicals, leading to buyers offering low prices at the local auction floors.
The report underscores concerns raised by the Commercial Famers Union (CFU) about the instability of Zimbabwe being a single-crop producer, with tobacco being the crop of choice in the still underperforming agricultural sector
The much publicised ‘success’ of the tobacco sector has been lauded by ZANU PF, which led the land grab campaign that saw top party officials and loyalists seize commercial farms.
Under the guise of ‘reform’, the campaign resulted in the destruction of the agricultural sector and in turn helped shatter the failing economy. There has also never been a return to the level of local food production seen prior to the launch of the land grabs, leaving Zimbabwe dependent on food imports and an estimated two million Zimbabweans reliant on food aid.
But in recent years a growing number of smallhold tobacco farmers has seen the output of this sector begin to surge.
CFU President Charles Taffs has previously warned that the tobacco success has come at the serious expense of food production, and this was “unsustainable.”
“We’ve come from a hugely diverse agricultural base, to a single crop base. And we are relying on one commodity and as a country we cannot afford to do this,” Taffs said.