Thousands of small-scale Zimbabwe farmers are afraid they will be going hungry this winter. The worst regional drought in nearly a decade has left Zimbabwe in a precarious food situation. Many farmers have complained of low prices as the season ends while buyers argue the quality of the crop was poor.
“A number of farmers are crying foul over unsatisfactory (tobacco) prices,” said Trevor Saruwaka, member of parliament for Mutasa Central in Manicaland. “Those who make losses are condemned to poverty and starvation.”
The tobacco industry is Zimbabwe’s biggest export earner with over 88,000 growers registered with the tobacco regulatory body, the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board, in the 2014-2015 season, up from 52,000 in 2012.
But many farmers have been left disappointed. Industry figures showed that at the end of the selling season this month farmers sold 188.5 million kgs worth US$555 million, down 8.5% from a year ago when the crop was worth US$654 million.
According to the government, with more farmers focused on tobacco, Zimbabwe’s harvest of maize dropped by 49% this season, which is set to exacerbate food shortages in Zimbabwe, once the bread-basket of the region.
Zimbabwe has a deficit of 700,000 tons, about half of its annual maize requirement. It requires US$300 million to import maize, vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa said in June.
Some people fear that the push to tobacco farming, once controlled by about 1,200 mainly white farmers, was having worrying knock-on effects, as many smallholders simply cannot afford the expensive inputs required to make a profit from tobacco.