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December 30, 2010

Tobacco adds fuel to Zimbabwe's exports

by Ginny Stein

Tobacco production is booming in Zimbabwe as small farmers attempt to cash in on high prices worldwide.

Farmers have also been spurred on by Zimbabwe's adoption of the US dollar following the collapse of its own currency, with 99 per cent of all tobacco grown in the country now exported.

Operators of a farm outside Zimbabwe's capital Harare are harvesting a fine crop of lush 16 leaf plants to be smoked dry - the Virginia method of flavouring tobacco.

Last year the tobacco sold by growers was worth about $US274 million - this year that figure has reached almost $US500 million.

But despite the country's booming tobacco industry, smoking remains a luxury few Zimbabweans can afford and very few have taken up the habit.

Andrew Matibiri, chief executive of Zimbabwe's Tobacco and Marketing Industry Board, says more farmers are becoming involved.

"If you go back 10 years, we had 8,500 growers growing on average about 10 hectares each. This year we had 50,000 growing units growing on average one-and-a-third hectares," he said.

After president Robert Mugabe's land reform program kicked off 10 years ago, white-owned farms were seized and land redistributed. Just who got the large and most fertile farmland remains a deeply contentious issue. But when it comes to tobacco farming and small holdings, there are many success stories and greater distribution of wealth.

Douglas Mhembere, a war veteran and Mugabe loyalist, has a small holding outside Harare that comprises 160 hectares on which he farms cattle and tobacco. He has 60 labourers and their families living on the farm.
He had a successful harvest and hopes his next crop, which has just been planted, will be every bit as profitable.

"What I did was, I just said 'I must just go onto the land and get on my own'," he said.

Mr Mhembere says that decision has helped change his life.

But in a country where land title is nowhere near decided, one major issue still hangs over Mr Mhembere's head. He has no papers for his land, and as a result no way to borrow money from any bank to improve his farm. Because he has no official lease Mr Mhembere is like a squatter and has no legal rights to the land.

"That is the thing. I don't have the papers," he said.

And that remains the situation across the whole of Zimbabwe for all farmers on seized land.

ABC News

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