Zimbabwe farmers fear winter of hunger after poor tobacco crop

HARARE (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – 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 70 kg out of the 200 kg 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”.

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.


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 $555 million, down 8.5 percent 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 percent in the 2014/15 season, the government said, which is set to exacerbate food shortages in Zimbabwe, once the bread-basket of the region.

Zimbabwe has a deficit of 700,000 tonnes, about half of its annual maize requirement. It requires $300 million 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.


Related Posts
Zimbabwe calls for $1.6bn in aid to pay for food
HARARE — Zimbabwe on Tuesday appealed to local businesses and charities for $1.6bn aid to save more than a quarter of the population from starvation due to drought. "The government of ...
Robert Mugabe’s cabinet: a list of catastrophic failures and failed promises
HARARE - It is probably an understatement to say that Zimbabwe, despite often boasting of being one of the most literate nations in Africa, has suffered a disproportionate share of ...
Opposition Scoffs At Mugabe’s High Likability Remarks, Urge Him to Go
HARARE - Opposition parties have scoffed at remarks by President Robert Mugabe that Zimbabweans will be angry should he be asked to stand down as the president. Mr. Mugabe, who is ...
Journos who call Grace ‘controversial’ could lose press card
Harare - Tempted to refer to Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe's wife Grace as "controversial"? You could lose your press card. Mugabe's spokesperson George Charamba has accused journalists from the independent press ...
MDC-T is a ‘satanic’ movement – Mnangagwa
Opposition MDC-T is a "satanic" movement and all Zimbabweans who voted for the party during the 2013 elections to seek "redemption from the Lord for supping with the devil", Vice ...
Mugabe defies ’death prophets’ by living into 2016
Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe has defied “death prophecies”, which had predicted he would not survive 2015. The first such claim came in January when Austin Liabunya, founder and president of BSI ...
‘Not my mansion’ – Zimbabwe’s police chief disowns his mansions
Harare - Zimbabwe's under-fire police chief Augustine Chihuri has insisted that an unbelievably palatial Harare mansion with a swimming pool, water features and lush flower borders is NOT his, a ...
Underpressure Zimbabwe regime slams French envoy over Dzamabara remark
Harare - Zimbabwe's foreign ministry has rebuked the French ambassador over remarks he reportedly made at Bastille Day celebrations in support of a missing opposition activist, state media said on ...
Pastor calls for massive peaceful uprising
JOHANNESBURG (AP) -- The Zimbabwe pastor who launched a social media campaign criticizing the government and then left the country for his safety is calling for a massive but peaceful ...
Robert Mugabe rants at whites, Obama
Addis Ababa - Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe was given a standing ovation by his peers at the African Union (AU) summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Saturday as he handed ...
Zimbabwe calls for $1.6bn in aid to pay
Robert Mugabe’s cabinet: a list of catastrophic failures
Opposition Scoffs At Mugabe’s High Likability Remarks, Urge
Journos who call Grace ‘controversial’ could lose press
MDC-T is a ‘satanic’ movement – Mnangagwa
Mugabe defies ’death prophets’ by living into 2016
‘Not my mansion’ – Zimbabwe’s police chief disowns
Underpressure Zimbabwe regime slams French envoy over Dzamabara
Pastor calls for massive peaceful uprising
Robert Mugabe rants at whites, Obama

Arts & Entertainment