A tale of two tobacco farmers

23 Jun, 2024 - 00:06 0 Views
A tale of two tobacco farmers Lovemore Mutandadzi and his thriving tobacco crop

The Sunday Mail

Tendai Chara

LOVEMORE MUTANDADZI, a tobacco farmer from Mutandadzi village in Centenary, Mashonaland Central province, beams with pride after a stellar 2024 tobacco selling season.

The communal farmer’s meticulous planning and dedication paid off handsomely, with a recent bank deposit of a cool US$16 000.

Mutandadzi’s success story is rooted in his commitment to excellence.

By strictly following recommended planting techniques, utilising high-quality seed varieties and closely monitoring crop health throughout the season, he was able to achieve an exceptional yield of over 2 000 kilogrammes per hectare from his two-and-a-half-hectare plot.

This windfall will undoubtedly have a significant impact on the farmer’s life. The money will not only allow him to improve his livelihood and the well-being of his family, but will also likely be reinvested in the farm.

Upgrading equipment, purchasing the necessary supplies for the upcoming season and even expanding his farmland are all possibilities on the horizon for this enterprising farmer.

Growing the crop under contract, the average price his tobacco fetched was US$4,27 per kg. After deducting all the expenses, he realised a significant profit of US$11 670. For weeding, the farmer forked out US$200, and for reaping and grading, he spent US$720. Transporters who ferried his crop to the auction floor charged him US$410, with another US$200 being channelled towards firewood and fuel, among other things.

The inputs he received from the contractor were worth US$2 800. All in all, the farmer deducted US$4 330 to cover all the expenses.

The rich pickings have changed the farmer’s life for the better.

“I drilled a borehole at a cost of US$1 700 and also paid US$1 500 university fees for my son. As I speak, I am in Rushinga, where I am looking for cattle to buy,” said the 58-year-old farmer.

Mutandadzi is, however, not happy with the tobacco selling system.

“Farmers are not directly involved in all the processes that are related to the sale of the crop. The bales are opened in our absence and I suspect that a lot of underhand dealings are being done,” he alleged.

“I was contracted to two companies and after delivering the same crop to the two companies, I was shocked to discover that one bought the crop for US$3,20 per kg, with the other one buying the same crop for as high as US$4,80 for the same quantity.”

Nonetheless, Mutandadzi is now focusing on increasing his yield to more than 5 000kg.

“With the drilling of the borehole, I am going to put part of my next crop under irrigation. The yields from the same hectares are definitely going to increase.”

While some tobacco farmers, like those who receive contractor support and experience favourable weather conditions can achieve significant profits, the impact of the El Niño weather phenomenon was devastating for others.

Ngoni Chikerema, a 47-year-old farmer from Mvurwi, exemplifies this hardship.

The intense heat caused by El Niño saw his crop wilt, resulting in a complete loss; he did not have any tobacco to sell. Despite this setback, Chikerema remains determined and plans to continue growing tobacco.

“Due to the intense heat, I never set foot on the marketing floors,” he said.

He, along with his community, are taking proactive steps to manage future droughts. They built a reservoir, acquired a water pump and Chikerema invested in a tractor-driven bowser, all for irrigation purposes.

This initiative highlights the importance of adaptation in the face of climate challenges.

El Niño’s widespread impact affected several farmers in Mvurwi, forcing some to experiment with mixed cropping strategies like growing tobacco and maize together to diversify their income sources.

“After last season’s disaster, we are now going for irrigated crops,” he told The Sunday Mail Society.

Like his colleague, Chikerema, who is the president of the recently formed Zimbabwe Tobacco Farmers Association (ZITOFA), is not pleased with the way tobacco farmers are being treated at the marketing floors.

“Contractors are ripping us off. As farmers, we are not allowed to witness the opening and repackaging of our bales on the floors.

“We have evidence to prove that some unscrupulous agents have devised ways of stealing from the farmers,” he said.

The farmer further said the newly formed association is going to bring notable changes to the tobacco growing industry.

“We are advocating pension schemes for farmers and also the introduction of national social security schemes. Farmers, like every other person, must have access to housing and other social welfare schemes,” he said.

Paul Muringanise, a ZITOFA board member, urged the banking fraternity to provide tobacco farmers with affordable loan facilities and contractors to be efficient in input distribution.

Around 2000, the country embarked on the historic land reform programme which resulted in the transfer of at least 10 million hectares of land to the black majority. Resultantly, over 80 percent of tobacco is produced by indigenous farmers, most of whom are beneficiaries of the land reform programme.

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