Thursday, June 27, 2013

Zimbabwe Tobacco Production Figures Vindicate Land Reform

Editorial Comment: Tobacco production figures vindicate land reform

Thursday, 27 June 2013 00:00
Zimbabwe Herald

Tobacco production figures that the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board released on Wednesday are very encouraging and help prove beyond doubt that the benefits of land reform are long term and not short term.

When Zimbabwe embarked on the land revolution around 2000, opponents of the empowerment programme predicted that tobacco production would fall because the land had been taken away from the commercial farmers and put in the hands of “inexperienced” indigenous farmers.

Detractors celebrated when the tobacco output crumbled to around 50 million kilogrammes and advanced the tumble to justify why it was wrong to move them off the farms.

For us, there was nothing really surprising with the fall in production in the wake of the agrarian revolution, for the programme had never been meant to yield results in the short term but rather in the long term.

The short term period was for farmers to settle on the land they had been allocated, establish relations with inputs suppliers and get acquainted with the markets.

It was never in question that land reform would start to yield results in the long term and this is what we are now witnessing across all the crops.

From the 50 million kilogrammes, the farmers have managed to push production up to 153 million kg this season. In between the seasons, production has hovered around 100 million kg and 125 million kg.

Every season the crop has been registering growth in production as more and more farmers shifted to tobacco growing owing largely to its good returns.

The farmers have worked so hard to increase production despite efforts by critics of land reform to pull them down by imposing illegal economic sanctions.

The illegal sanctions pushed the farmers to the wall and they indeed came back charging and today the tobacco industry has rebounded and it is only a matter of time before production hits the record 206 million kg.

What opponents of land reform seem to forget is that Zimbabweans are inherently resilient farmers who can always rise to face any challenge.

The tobacco that white former commercial farmers boasted of was being grown by black farmers, the same people who are now proud owners of pieces of land, courtesy of the land reform.

To then forecast a collapse of the industry when experienced hands have taken over, is not only madness but the cry of losers.
The A2 farmers have continued to lead the pack in production, followed closely by A1 farmers and communal farmers.

In terms of the knowledge to produce tobacco, these farmers are second to none but the only major problem they have faced is finance.

Banks have been reluctant to loan the beneficiaries of land reform as some of the financial institutions were part of the wider network opposed to the programme.

This is why rebounding of the industry has taken some bit of time and had nothing to do with the expertise as farmers have the knowledge for they were the ones doing it for the white former commercial farmers.

Having said this, we remain worried with threats by the World Health Organisation to ban tobacco production for whatever reasons they have advanced given that many people in Zimbabwe and the whole world are making a good living out of the crop.

The lives of many farmers have been transformed owing to tobacco production. They have been able to send their children to school, buy property, both movable and immovable, with proceeds from tobacco.

This is not confined to Zimbabwe but other countries like Brazil where 800 million kg of tobacco is produced by small-scale farmers.

Those that were yesterday poor are now living decent lives from growing tobacco and once this is taken away from them, then obviously they will plunge back to poverty and this is not something we can even fathom.

The WHO reasons, such as heath grounds and environmental damage, are issues that governments can tackle on their own and do not need a total ban of the crop on which millions of people live on.

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