GOVERNMENT will soon roll out a US$60 million tobacco production facility to fund local farmers using domestic financial resources following an outcry over the alleged ripping off of local golden leaf producers by foreign merchant contractors.
The fund is expected to support tobacco production on 50 000 hectares during the forthcoming season.
Tobacco is one of the country’s biggest foreign currency earners and is mostly grown by smallholder farmers.
Over the years, foreign merchants have taken the lead in financing production but have been accused of ensnaring local farmers into debt through contract farming.
The merchants offer farmers loans to pay for fertiliser, seed, labour, firewood for curing and even household food items under a contract growing scheme before recovering their funding, with interest, when the farmer delivers the crop.
Tobacco Industry Marketing Board (TIMB) public relations officer, Ms Chelesani Moyo, told The Sunday Mail that establishment of the fund is part of the work that is being done to transform the tobacco industry value chain.
“The Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Resettlement is spearheading a plan to that effect and is working closely with TIMB and other tobacco stakeholders,” she said.
“Part of the objectives of the tobacco value chain transformation plan are to prioritise strategic interventions in the localisation of tobacco funding.
Ms Moyo said beneficiaries will be required to produce proof of access to land (title deeds, land permit/ offer letter for A1 and A2), while those living in communal areas will need to produce a stamped recommendation letter from the grower’s councillor or headman or chief.
Other requirements include a stamped recommendation letter from the grower’s local Agricultural Advisory Services (Agritex) officer to confirm that the person is a bonafide tobacco grower, a certified copy of national identification card and a production or track record.