A cigar-wrapping tobacco auction floor has been set up in Zimbabwe’s Manicaland province where 14 farmers, mostly women, engaged in cultivating the lucrative burley tobacco, will utilize the facility for selling their produce.
The local farmers in Burma Valley are happy that the auction floor is set to boost their income as they won’t travel long distances to sell the naturally-cured tobacco.
Burma Valley, situated about 40 kilometers (24 miles) south-east of Mutare border town, has a large number of farmers cultivating a variety of crops like bananas, vegetables and of late barley tobacco used for wrapping cigars. This type of tobacco has a ready market in South Africa, Europe, Asia and Latin America.
The 14 farmers are using 10 hectares of land as a pilot project of cigar-wrapping tobacco farming at Mapeti Farm. The project that began in 2013 is the only one of its kind in Zimbabwe and second in Africa after Cameroon.
Elsewhere in the world, burley tobacco is grown in Brazil, Chile, Cuba and the Comoros.
Zimbabwe’s Women’s Affairs Minister, Nyasha Chikwinya, officially opened the auction floors a few days ago.
Chikwinya witnessed the first sale of over 100 burley tobacco bales at the auction floor where some farmers with good grade tobacco fetched as much as $5,50 a kilogram.
One of the farmers, Lionel Guild, says the auction floor would play a critical role in cutting down costs of transporting the harvested tobacco while boosting their income.
He says the farmers would increase hectarage of the crop as and when the demand increases.
“There is a big market for it, particularly in Europe and the Americas and also in South Africa. At the moment we are selling to a company in Germany. We are increasing our crop with each harvest and also depending on the demand but one thing for sure is that there is a ready market out there,” says Guild.
Lucy Machiki, another farmer from Burma Valley, says apart from being a money spinner, the crop is environmentally-friendly.
“The advantages of this cigar crop is that we are not going to cut down trees as is with others, we are not going to cut any trees, what we have to do is only dry the leaves through the natural air in the open and that way we preserve our trees.”
Her views are echoed by her colleague, Winnie Maisiri, who says they now have to only use simple methods of transporting their produce to the auction floor.
“We market our crop locally and we no longer need to travel far and meet transport costs as is with other crops. We simply need to use a scotch cart or wheel barrow to bring it to the market that is within our village and we are happy with this development,” says Maisiri.
Alice Ziki is another happy farmer. She says cultivating barley tobacco gives farmers time to attend to other domestic chores while barley tobacco leaves are getting cured naturally.
Dorothy Madhara, a Mutare District Agricultural Extension Worker with the Ministry of Agriculture in the Mutare South catchment area, says farmers are slowly mastering ways of cultivating and curing barley tobacco.
However, Madhara, says there is need for more training among local extension workers on growing barley tobacco. Madhara adds that farmers won’t need to chop down trees to cure the tobacco leaves.
“This type of tobacco reduces deforestation since it is air-cured, that’s one major advantage of growing this crop over other types of tobaccos.”
Mike Edminson, a representative of a German company - Voenaiken - that is buying the cigar-wrapping tobacco, says he is happy with the quality of the crop they are getting from Burma Valley farmers.
He adds that cigars are getting popular in Europe compared to cigarettes and this is likely to boost their farming business.
“The cigar business in Europe is very strong, more cigars were sold last year compared to the last ten years, maybe it is because of the taxation imposed on cigarettes and the cigar business growing bigger. So the demand for cigars is growing,” says Edminson.
The farmers intend to increase their hectarage for burley tobacco in the next cropping season.