Tobacco remains one of Zimbabwe's biggest sources of foreign currency, bringing in millions annually.
Men have largely been the key producers, but more women are also starting to enter the field, on a commercial basis.
Nomsa Mapfunde, a single woman and hotelier by profession, ventured into tobacco farming in Doma, Mhangura, Mashonaland West, after realizing that the crop is a money spinner
She says, “I thought to myself it’s a male-dominated environment. But I think I can do it. I decided to read, research, and talk to people who have done it and you know I felt encouraged.”
She adds, “Tobacco is a cash crop and financially if you get into farming you have to do it properly to get really good returns.”
Mupfunde says many women are venturing into the tobacco business though she does not have a specific number of those doing such agricultural activities.
She stresses that it’s generally very rare to find a single woman prospering on her own without a partner or husband. “Tobacco is a male-dominated environment and women face many challenges even when they go to the tobacco floors.”
Tobacco is not without its challenges, says Mupfunde, who states that there are at least three major problems she faces. “Firstly, and foremost financing, make sure your finances are in good order because banks are not going to give you money.
“Secondly, equipment … You need to have good equipment also in the aspect of irrigation because of ZESA (Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority) electricity when there is rainfall there, there are so bad. Thirdly, when the rain comes it comes with hail stones which can have your crop damaged.”
She says the current season is one of the most difficult she has encountered as a tobacco farmer.
She adds that the El Nino weather phenomenon, which is resulting in unpredictable weather changes, has been a very big challenge. As a result, she says, “Drought has been a big challenge; it has especially disadvantaged those who do not have irrigation. We share a dam with other farmers even though, my irrigation system is not the best.”
Though a major export crop for Zimbabwe, tobacco yields last year were low, due to poor rains and other factors.
Mupfunde says government should do more to encourage women to grow the profitable crop, so as to help grow the economy. She notes that the government is not doing enough to assist women in tobacco farming.
“I believe that is contributing to the not impressive statistics especially among women who stand alone (in this business).
Mupfunde managed to reap remarkable rewards from her tobacco crop in the last crop season. “The prices were good last year, and I supplied one of the best crops. We did very well last year; I sold my tobacco at $5,60 per kg. When the tobacco inspectors test the leaf it should first of all be a golden leaf, the average weight required last year was 2,9 kg which we met. The moisture content should be good and ours was good, hence the favorable moisture.”
She says women should encourage each other to venture into such businesses in order to grow Zimbabwe’s economy. “Women in our society were not taken seriously. Yet it is women who made sure that children went to school and got educated with farming (proceeds). So, men and women are the same and should be seen as equal human beings. Women are more than capable (of performing in various fields). That’s what I feel as a farmer.”
According to the Ministry of Finance, tobacco output increased by 15% from the 2012 production level of 144,500 tons, to about 166,600 tons in 2013, from some 88,623 hectares that had been put under crop.
The main supporting factors were the increased area planted and the number of growers. The Tobacco Industry Marketing Board had by the close of the 2012/13 marketing season sold 166.5 million kilograms of tobacco at an average price of US$3.70/kg, realizing US$616 million in sales.
In 2014, tobacco production was estimated at 170,000 tons – a 2.6% increase from the 2013 output. This growth was mainly on account of increased planted area of about 90,000 ha from the 88 600 ha planted in 2013.
However, tobacco yields slumped in 2015 owing to various factors, including lack of inputs and drought. The government has over the years encouraged farmers to engage in contract farming.
Presenting Zimbabwe’s 2016 national budget, Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa said, “Contract farming arrangements have positively supported production of such agricultural commodities as tobacco, cotton, barley, soya, sorghum, among others.”