Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

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Govt, BAT in agric empowerment drive

Govt, BAT in agric empowerment drive

Sydney Kawadza Senior Features Writer
In 1995, Laxer Matemayi completed her Ordinary Level education at Ngezi High in Mhondoro, Mashonaland West province. Like most of her peers she found herself in a marriage that was blessed with three children. The marital bliss she anticipated, however, did not materialise leading to the collapse of the union. Like a true mother, she took it upon herself to fend for her children instead of engaging into a confrontation with her ex-husband.

“I went through a number of jobs before I decided to go into tobacco farming so that I could fend for my children. Unfortunately, the venture proved difficult because I lacked the requisite knowledge on how to profitably and correctly grow the tobacco,” she said.

The gods seem to have smiled on the 38-year-old who enrolled at Chaminuka Training Centre in Mt Darwin where she is pursuing a Diploma in Agriculture specialising in tobacco.

Matemayi is a beneficiary of the British American Tobacco Zimbabwe Tobacco Empowerment Trust scholarship programme. This is an initiative of BAT Zimbabwe and the Ministry of Youth Development, Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment.

Established in 2012 under the BAT Zimbabwe’s Indigenisation Compliance Plan, the Trust acquired 10,76 percent ordinary shares in BAT Zimbabwe to provide both technical and financial assistance to emerging indigenous tobacco farmers. The Trust aims at assisting students pursuing agricultural studies at local tertiary institutions around Zimbabwe.

According to the BAT Zimbabwe TET chairman Brigadier General (Rtd) Evaristo Dzihwema, the main objective behind the initiative is to empower indigenous farmers in tobacco growing regions in Zimbabwe.

“As its first large scale project to meet this objective, the Trust partnered with the Ministry’s Chaminuka Vocational Training Centre in Mt Darwin to build capacity in our small to medium-scale tobacco farmers in Zimbabwe. In particular, the Trust introduced certificate and diploma programmes in agriculture specialising in tobacco production. The diploma programme is accredited with the Bindura University of Science while the certificate programme is accredited with the ministry.”

Brig Gen (Rtd) Dzihwema said the Trust had committed more than $527 000 in equipping Chaminuka Vocational Training Centre as a centre of excellence in tobacco production.

“Of this amount, the Trust has so far spent $314 832,38 (with) some of the capital and infrastructural developments carried out at the institution by the Trust including the establishment of a state of the art irrigation system, construction of modern tobacco barns, refurbishment of classrooms and student residence and the establishment of computer labs. The Trust also funds 50 percent of the scholarships for all students under this programme,” he said.

There are 131 students on the programme.

The chairman said the Trust was established as part of BAT’s compliance with the Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment laws of Zimbabwe.

“The Trust owns equity in BAT Zimbabwe and its mandate is to provide both technical and financial assistance to emerging indigenous tobacco farmers. The Trust has increased BAT’s existing support to the agricultural sector by giving young adults and female small-scale farmers an opportunity to develop into viable commercial farmers.”

He said the Trust’s vision and objectives are aligned to the national economic empowerment blueprint — the Zim-Asset policy document. Brig Gen (Rtd) Dzihwema said they sought to empower small-scale farmers, mainly women and young adults through capacity building with respect to best agricultural techniques.

“The Chaminuka VTC project has fostered an environment that is conducive for best practice in tobacco farming by providing the necessary equipment and expertise to teach small-scale farmers on the right way to carry out all processes that are required in tobacco production. It is important that our small to medium-scale farmers look at farming as a profitable business. It is our view that farmers with the right skills and knowledge will the able to produce the best quality crop and therefore increase their own financial well-being,” he said. “Apart from the theory and practical modules on tobacco production, the programme places tremendous emphasis on essential business skills such as financial management, development of business plans and cash flow management among others. Farmers with the right combination of skill sets of business, practical and theoretical knowledge of agriculture should be able to approach financial institutions or enter into suitable contracting farming arrangements which will enable them to run a viable concern. During the industrial attachment period, our students get an opportunity to interact with large-scale farmers, tobacco merchants, auction floor companies and financial institutions.”

He said in the short-to-medium term, the Trust intends to run similar projects in all tobacco growing regions in Zimbabwe.

“Further, to make its programmes accessible to practising farmers, the Trust is developing short courses on tobacco production, which will run at identified centres throughout Zimbabwe,” he said.

According to independent statistics from the Zimbabwe Association of Women Tobacco Farmers there were 85 006 farmers registered to grow tobacco in the 2013/ 14 agricultural season. Among these farmers, 32 percent were women. The Tobacco Industry Marketing Board, however, estimates that there are 110 000 small-scale tobacco farmers, of which 39,5 percent are women.

According to Matemayi, the scholarship has been a gift from heaven.

“I discovered that my efforts to make the most out of my agricultural activities was being hampered by a severe lack of knowledge,” she said. My time at college has empowered me to the extent that when I graduate I will be a complete and productive farmer who can not only produce for the family but provide employment for the community.”

Matemayi further revealed that the knowledge she has acquired could also benefit her community in Masasa Old Resettlement Scheme in Beatrice, Mashonaland East.

“I come from a community which has grown tobacco with so much enthusiasm although the crop has been so poor that farmers are not deriving maximum benefit from their activities. I believe the knowledge I have acquired here can be used to assist farmers from my area to improve the quality of tobacco they grow,” she said.

Theresa Mazhuzha from Mhangura in Mashonaland West believes the programme is a launch pad for young farmers to become serious entrepreneurs.

“In all honesty, the programme has helped to prepare me to take my agricultural activities to another level. We are being trained to become enterprising entrepreneurs and it is an opportunity to empower young farmers to contribute to the economic development of Zimbabwe,” she said.

Eighteen-year-old Jane Ngwenya from Magunje in the same province said being a beneficiary of the programme has widened her economic options. “Farming is a business but there are people who believe completing secondary education means going on the job market but the programme empowers us to become employers.

“At my age, I intend to pursue specialised education in tobacco production and make the most of the A2 farm allocated to my family,” she said. Chaminuka VTC Principal Mr Alois Musariri said the programme ensures that the college produces enterprising students who are ready to farm.

Feedback: sydney.kawadza@zimpapers.co.zw

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