4 Jan 2011

Tobacco a boom crop for Zimbabwe

12:50 pm on 4 January 2011

Years of drought and the violent eviction of white farmers pushed Zimbabwe's agricultural sector to collapse.

But now one crop is bringing the sector back from the brink: tobacco production is booming.

While many governments around the world are trying to get people to quit smoking, the ABC reports Zimbabwe is making a healthy income from tobacco, exporting it worldwide.

Prices are high worldwide. Farmers have also been spurred by Zimbabwe's adoption of the US dollar following the collapse of its own currency, with 99% of all tobacco grown in the country now exported.

Last year tobacco exports were worth about $US274 million - in 2010 the figure reached almost $US500 million.

But despite the boom, smoking remains a luxury few people in Zimbabwe can afford and very few have taken up the habit.

The Tobacco & Marketing Industry Board, says 50,000 growers are now involved. The average size of their holding is 1.3 hectares.

Ten years ago, the number was 8500 growers with on average about 10 hectares each.

Land seizures

The ABC reports there are many success stories arising from President Robert Mugabe's land reform programme which began 10 years ago, when white-owned farms were seized and land redistributed.

One example is war veteran and Mugabe loyalist Douglas Mhembere, who has a small holding outside Harare that comprises 160 hectares on which he farms cattle and tobacco.

He has 60 labourers and their families living on the farm.

But he has no papers for the land and no way to borrow money from any bank to improve the farm as a result.

Because he has no official lease Mr Mhembere is like a squatter and has no legal rights to the land.

"That is the thing. I don't have the papers," he said.

And, reports the ABC, that remains the situation across the whole of Zimbabwe for all farmers on seized land.