Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

***The views expressed in the articles published on this website DO NOT necessarily express the views of the Commercial Farmers' Union.***

Zimbabwe Enemies Unite on Tobacco

Zimbabwe Enemies Unite on Tobacco

NOVEMBER 13, 2010


HARARE, Zimbabwe—For years, Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe and his
allies have sought to drive white farmers from their land, and the farmers
have fought back through the courts.

In recent weeks, the World Health Organization has managed to bring the two
warring camps together by attacking one of their few shared interests:

The WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control seeks to cut global
production and demand for a crop that is the lifeblood of Zimbabwe’s
economy—accounting for 26% of gross domestic product in 2009, according to
the Ministry of Finance. The 171 countries that are party to the convention
will meet in Uruguay next week. Zimbabwe officials and farmers—white and
black—are banding together to explore how to respond to a treaty that could
derail the country’s fragile recovery after a decade of economic and
political tumult.

“We have to set aside our differences to save the country’s economy,” said
Kevin Cooke, president of the Zimbabwe Tobacco Association, the main tobacco
farmers’ body. “There are no alternative crops that come near tobacco.”

Minister of Agriculture Joseph Made, a close ally of President Mugabe, says
the government is scrambling to save a dominant cash crop grown by the
country’s largest and smallest of farmers, of all colors. “There are no
differences between us on this one,” he says. “Everyone is working together
and certainly we hope this togetherness can last.”

Mr. Made admits that Zimbabwe alone doesn’t have much leverage, and says it
is relying on support from other countries that also oppose elements of the

The show of unity is remarkable in the current political climate. The shared
government of President Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party and Prime Minister Morgan
Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change is nearing an end. Officials in
both parties, including Mr. Mugabe, say they want elections next year to
replace the troubled coalition government, but another vote risks a repeat
of the 2008 elections, in which hundreds are believed to have died in
political violence.

Zimbabwe’s white farmers have tended to support Mr. Tsvangirai’s party. The
prime minister has spoken out about the need to resolve land disputes in a
legal and transparent manner—a stance that appears to side with
international court decisions, including the Southern African Development
Community tribunal that in 2008 ruled in favor of the land rights of white
farmers. Mr. Mugabe’s government has said it won’t abide by that ruling.

It isn’t clear how long the unlikely alliance can last. The killing last
month of Kobus Joubert, a leading white tobacco farmer and former president
of the ZTA, highlights the insecurity faced by the few remaining white
farmers. Police have described Mr. Joubert’s death has been described by
police as occurring during a robbery, but farmer representatives say such
violence has often been part of the farm evictions supported by Mr. Mugabe.

Today, fewer than 300 whites remain on farms, down from 4,500 when evictions
started about a decade ago, according to Deon Theron, president of the
Commercial Farmers Union. “Our members are still being violently evicted
even when they have court orders on their side,” he said.

But when it comes to tobacco, the fighting has stopped, for now. Tobacco is
Zimbabwe’s biggest agricultural employer, providing jobs for 350,000 people;
an additional 500,000 work in related industries, such as cigarette
manufacturing, according to the government and farmer unions. In September,
Zimbabwe’s finance minister raised projections for full-year economic growth
to slightly over 8% from its July forecast of 4.5%, largely because of
resurgent tobacco sales. The industry earns much-needed foreign currency
from its overseas sales of Burley tobacco, a product blended into such
famous cigarette brands as Altria Group Inc.’s Marlboro.

The WHO treaty would hit countries that grow Burley tobacco hard. The crop
requires blending with other ingredients that global health authorities deem
harmful. In the draft guidelines, the WHO urges member governments to
examine how to restrict or ban ingredients—such as those blended with
Burley—that increase the attractiveness of tobacco products, “as a tool to
help limit youth initiation,” said a WHO spokesman, in an email response to

The treaty is expected to spearhead a global antitobacco campaign to reduce
consumption of tobacco products, which the WHO says kills five million
people a year, or one person every six seconds. Most of the deaths occur in
middle- and low-income countries, according to the WHO.

The International Tobacco Growers’ Association has accused the WHO of
rushing ahead with regulation without fully understanding the impact on
tobacco farmers or directly consulting them. “If they are pushed to produce
something else what are they going to do? You lose millions of jobs,” says
Antonio Abrunhosa, chief executive of the ITGA, which says it has 30 million
members world-wide. “Can you regulate chocolate without talking to chocolate

A study funded by the ITGA, released Thursday, estimated 3.6 million jobs in
the tobacco-growing sector in five African countries were at risk because of
the WHO proposals. The report warned another 12 million people would be
affected by developments in the countries’ tobacco sectors.

The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa has also criticized the
WHO action, arguing that its members that grow types of tobacco that require
blending would suffer, according to a September communiqué. The trading bloc
urged its members to lobby the WHO for a more industry-friendly treaty.

The WHO spokesman says a number of African countries are part of working
groups currently drafting the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
Zimbabwe isn’t yet among them. Mr. Cooke of the Zimbabwe Tobacco Association
says it has been skeptical of the treaty’s goals of ending tobacco use
without coming up withoffering viable alternative crops.

Recently, however, both the government and the farmer groups have agreed
that Zimbabwe should join the WHO treaty group, in a bid to help shape
future tobacco regulations.

Says Mr. Made, the agriculture minister: “We cannot fight from outside and
—Peter Wonacott in Johannesburg contributed to this article.


New Posts: