Zimbabwe’s agricultural sector is making a comeback, fifteen years after a collapse catalyzed by the nation’s move into nationalizing farmland to improve racial, social and economic equity.
The resurgence is based on the success of the tobacco crop. Black farmers – many of whom contract with private firms – have produced a near record crop. Tobacco production was up 235 percent last year, driven largely by demand from China. Agriculture accounts for 18 percent of the nation’s GDP.
It’s a good sign that Zimbabwe’s agricultural sector is making a resurgence after the collapse in 2000. There were about 5,000 tobacco producers then, mostly white. Today, there are more than 90,000 farmers growing the crop. Locally, tobacco is called green gold. Farmers prefer growing it to cereal crops because there is a ready market for tobacco, and companies contract with farmers to produce it, thus providing easy access to the inputs required to grow the crop.
“What this shows is that black farmers are just as capable of farming if they are given the financial support,” said Edward Bhasera, a farmer waiting to deliver 60 tonnes of the crop at Zimbabwe Leaf Tobacco, one of the biggest of around 20 marketing firms that buy the crop from farmers.
Mugabe’s land seizure drive, which he defends as necessary to correct skewed colonial land ownership, was followed by a 45 percent fall in commercial agriculture output, forcing the one-time regional food exporter import food.
Most of the tobacco produced goes for export; Zimbabwe consumes less than 5 percent of what it produces.
“We will grow for those who want to smoke it. You should listen to what your doctor says. But if you over smoke, don’t blame us,” a smiling [Robert] Mugabe added, drawing raucous laughter from Zimbabwean and South African government ministers and reporters.