Tobacco farmers smile all the way to the bank

Harrison Mukucha (45) has worked his government-allocated A1 farm without tangible rewards since 2002. In desperation last year he decided to give tobacco farming one last chance - only to find his efforts rewarded by unusually high prizes at the tobacco floors.

Golden leaf: tobacco fetched unusually high prices ranging between $2-$5 per kg.
Golden leaf: tobacco fetched unusually high prices ranging between $2-$5 per kg.

He reluctantly put just two acres under tobacco last season, as he had been disappointed with the low prices which the golden leaf fetched in the past. He told The Zimbabwean how he and other tobacco farmers were smiling all the way to the bank this time around:

“Tobacco had fetched discouragingly low prices at the selling floors in the past and no one expected this year to be any better. As a result, a significant number of farmers stopped growing the crop in the 2011-2012 farming season.

“I took the gamble and decided to grow the crop on a wait and see basis. I was convinced it would continue selling at the usually low price. Last year, it fetched as low as $0.50 per kilogramme and on a few rare occasions reached the $4 mark.

“This forced a huge number of farmers to abandon tobacco farming and revert to maize. But with the resultant low supplies of the crop to the auction floors, tobacco fetched unusually high prices ranging between $2-$5 per kg.

“Though my delivery, like most small-scale farmers, was small, I got high returns for my farming efforts and managed to purchase essential agriculture equipment. There was an upsurge in the manufacture of the equipment by informal business people as farmers put their purchasing priorities in order.

“Manufacture and purchasing of equipment such as scotchcarts, water pumps, bowsers, irrigation pipes and electricity generators among other farming essentials spiralled. Most of the equipment would be sold in the vicinity of the auction floors.

“Unlike in the past when farmers could only afford a few groceries from the little returns they got from their year-round toil in the tobacco fields, this time huge capital equipment found its way to the farms. This could be the crucial turning point of our fortunes as new farmers.”

A visit by The Zimbabwean to the Mbare Musika informal business centre area saw scotchcart manufacturers busy at work. They admitted that they were enjoying brisk and lucrative business at the moment.

A plate welder and scotch cart manufacturer, Simon Murimi, said: “Scotchcart manufacturing has never been more rewarding. I sell an average six products per day. Business is really brisk and worth the effort. I am not complaining.

“The unusually high demand for my wares forced me to hire more assistants and slightly raise the price as farmers were generous enough to make purchases at any asked price. A scotchcart sells for an average of $400.

Business is booming: Scotchcarts cost an average of $400 each.
Business is booming: Scotchcarts cost an average of $400 each.

“In most cases I organise transport at a minimal cost to the farming areas. This enhanced my business as the farmers appreciated my after sales service. My products have a one year guarantee and I help service those broken down within the agreed period,” said Murimi with a wide smile.

Farmers use them for transport around the farms, thus reducing operation costs as they are cattle-drawn and do not need fuel.

Officials at the Tobacco Industry Marketing Board, said following the unprecedented purchase of farm equipment this year, agricultural activity was expected to improve in the future.

“Farmers were wiser this time around as they preferred to purchase capital equipment unlike in the past. We hope the crop will continue fetching good prices in the future and make the venture rewarding.

With the purchasing of capital equipment, agriculture activity is likely to assume an upward trend. Communal farmers have also taken the opportunity to build proper tobacco barns. Formerly, they used to convert kitchens into tobacco curing rooms,” said a Board official.

Post published in: Agriculture

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