Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

Commercial Farmers' Union of Zimbabwe

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Zimbabwe tobacco farms yield success

Zimbabwe tobacco farms yield success

September 22, 2011 3:41 pm

By Andrew England and Tony Hawkins in Harare

As Fidelis Gweshe walks between red brick farm buildings to show off his 
tobacco seedlings he chuckles at his circumstances. “I’m a banker by 
profession and farmer by accident,” he says.

Down the road, a neighbour, Manasa Matongo, sits on a log where he 
cultivated a hectare of tobacco for the first time last year and quietly 
outlines his plans for expansion.
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Between them, they represent the new faces of Zimbabwe’s black farming 

A decade after Robert Mugabe, president, implemented his controversial and 
often violent land reform programme, both farmers are living off seized 
white-owned land.

Under Zimbabwe’s land redistribution system Mr Gweshe, a former banker, 
farms around 230 hectares and is an “A2” category, generally considered a 
politically connected individual granted a large share of a seized property. 
Mr Matongo, a former truck driver, with six hectares is a category “A1” – 
the smallholder.

The land seizures, which began in 2000 and continue today, helped trigger 
Zimbabwe’s international isolation and the collapse of one of Africa’s most 
developed economies, destroying the agriculture sector.
Total tobacco sales

Yet in the past 18 months, there has been a tentative recovery, particularly 
in tobacco, as black farmers have begun to grow a cash crop that was once 
the preserve of white commercial farmers.

Tobacco production collapsed to a low of 48.8m kg in 2008, down from almost 
five times that in 2000. At the start of 2009 it began to recover and 
production more than doubled to 123m kg in 2010. This year, it is forecast 
to be about 131m kg.

This has come as the number of white commercial farmers has plummeted from 
4,500 to between 200 and 250, while the number of black smallholders 
producing tobacco has gone from a few hundred to more than 60,000.

Tobacco production was the main driver behind a 34 per cent growth in the 
agricultural sector last year.

The recovery is partly due to the relative political and economic stability 
after the opposition Movement for Democratic Change joined Mr Mugabe’s 
Zanu-PF party in a coalition government in 2009.

The main force driving the change has been the extension of contract farming 
by tobacco companies and buyers, which have provided training and inputs for 
black farmers as they seek to boost output of the Zimbabwean leaf.

Mr Matongo, 66, says he was only able to grow tobacco after he received 
support from a tobacco company to build two barns used to cure the leaf. “If 
I get a third barn, I could grow at least three hectares,” he says. “I 
cannot just keep on begging for assistance [from the tobacco companies].”

Mr Gweshe, who lives in the farmhouse from which the former white owners 
were evicted, has increased his production from 15 to 20 hectares two years 
ago to 50 hectares with improved yields after the help of inputs from a 
tobacco company. With the proper resources, he says, he could double 
production again.

Experts caution that it is too early to gauge the sustainability of the 
recovery in sectors like tobacco, while other areas of agriculture, 
including wheat, coffee and flowers remain in dire straits, with negligible 
levels of production compared to 10 years ago.

“People are jumping the gun to say [tobacco] is a success. I would say it’s 
a success when we have reached former levels of production and surpassed 
them,” says Deon Theron, president of the Commercial Farmers Union, which 
represents white commercial farmers.

The union estimates the land reform programme has cost $12bn in lost 

In tobacco, two distinct areas of activity have emerged. There are 200 or so 
mostly white large-scale commercial growers running sophisticated operations 
that produce a higher quality leaf. Alongside that group, is the smallholder 
sector operating at lower costs but also lower productivity rates. As their 
number has grown their share of the crop has increased to around 65 to 70 
per cent, but yields have halved, industry officials say.

“In the short term, quality has taken bit of a dip but it will recover 
through training,” says an industry expert. “There’s a culture [of growing 
tobacco], the knowledge is there, it’s just question of getting the right 
inputs to the right people at the right time.”

Paul Zakariya, executive director of the Zimbabwe Farmers Union, which 
predominantly represents black smallholders, says the reforms have brought 
change for the ”better and worse”.

A significant number of black farmers given land are failing to produce 
adequate crops because of lack of training, access to resources, access to 
good markets and support from institutions, he says.

Some white farmers have returned and are either leasing land from black 
farmers or working as managers. But Mr Zakariya says Zimbabwe needs to draw 
more on the expertise of white farmers.

”We are not where we need to be at all,” he says. “It’s the politics we need 
to take out of production and let the business people do their thing.”


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