Zim farmers fear winter of hunger after poor tobacco crop

2015-07-22 14:26


Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Special Report

Harare - Farmer Kenny Mabvumbe looked upset as he returned virtually empty-handed from the tobacco auction floors in the Zimbabwean capital of Harare.

His decision to venture into tobacco farming had turned into a nightmare. Only 70kg out of the 200kg he took to auction had been accepted, earning him a paltry $147.

"I have learned a lesson the hard way," said Mabvumbe, 33, who is married with two children and lives in Zimbabwe's eastern Manicaland Province.

"I have no food ... I am paying a high price for my mistakes."

Thousands of small-scale farmers in Zimbabwe fear they will be going hungry this winter after abandoning traditional staples like maize, sorghum and groundnuts for tobacco, a cash crop known locally in this southern African nation as "green gold".

Precarious food situation

For 15 years after Zimbabwe's agriculture sector collapsed in the face of President Robert Mugabe's seizure of white-owned farms to resettle landless blacks, the tobacco industry has been booming, with farmers funded by private firms to grow tobacco.

But this switch, coupled with the worst regional drought in nearly a decade, has left Zimbabwe in a precarious food situation. Many farmers have complained of low prices as the season ends while buyers argue the quality of the crop was poor.

"A number of farmers are crying foul over unsatisfactory [tobacco] prices," said Trevor Saruwaka, member of parliament for Mutasa Central in Manicaland.

"Those who make losses are condemned to poverty and starvation."

Most of Mabvumbe's tobacco was rejected because he cured it poorly and the little that was accepted fetched a low price. He borrowed $1 000 for tobacco seed, fertiliser and labour and now does not know how he will repay the loan.

"My tobacco came out dark in colour, making it unacceptable," he said. "Tobacco farming has a lot of risks."

Anti-riot police were called to the auction floor in March as farmers protested over low prices.

Drought and lack of knowledge

The tobacco industry has become the country's biggest export earner with over 88 000 growers registered with the tobacco regulatory body, the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board, in the 2014/15 season, up from 52 000 in 2012.

But the returns are often uncertain and many farmers have been left disappointed.

Industry figures showed that at the end of the selling season this month farmers sold 188.5 million kgs worth $555m, down 8.5% from a year ago when the crop was worth $654 million.

"It was a disaster," said David Muyambo, 35, a father of four, who earned $74 from tobacco sales this season after investing $1 200 in his crop. "I need to buy food for my family and I have no money."

Muyambo blames his failure on erratic rains, which decimated his crop, as well as his lack of knowledge on how to apply fertiliser, remove suckers and cure the crop.

Muyambo said he will never farm tobacco again.

With more farmers focused on tobacco, Zimbabwe's harvest of maize, a staple food, dropped by 49% in the 2014/15 season, the government said, which is set to exacerbate food shortages in Zimbabwe, once the bread-basket of the region.

Future shocks

Zimbabwe has a deficit of 700 000 tons, about half of its annual maize requirement. It requires $300m to import maize, Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa said in June.

The United Nation's food agency, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), forecast maize output would almost halve this year, warning this would mean more people in the 14 million population needing food assistance.

The voluntarily-funded World Food Programme (WFP) said it has embarked on a response programme to help farmers safeguard their remaining assets and strengthen their ability to withstand future shocks.

Eddie Cross, an economist and opposition parliamentarian, said the push to tobacco farming, once controlled by about 1 200 mainly white farmers, was having worrying knock-on effects.

He said many smallholders simply cannot afford the expensive inputs required to make a profit from tobacco.

"The changes in the tobacco industry in the past 15 years have had a serious and substantial impact on food security in the country," he said.

Read more on:    wfp  |  emmerson mnangagwa  |  robert mugabe  |  zimbabwe  |  southern africa  |  zimbabwe land reforms

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.


24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24


Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.