Tobacco farmers cry foul over levy

TOBACCO farmers are up in arms with government over how it is using funds generated under the Afforestation Levy, which is meant to support production of the golden leaf, the country’s biggest export earning crop.

Tinashe Kairiza

Over the past two seasons, government, through the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB), has collected over US$12 million under the Afforestation Levy.

The levy, which was introduced in 2014, is meant to replenish woodlots and forests to cope with the swelling number of tobacco farmers, who rely on firewood to cure the crop.

Government has, however, not channelled any resources towards supporting tree planting in tobacco growing areas.
Zimbabwe Farmers Union executive director Paul Zakariya said tobacco farmers feel “cheated” because the levy is not being used for its intended purpose.

“Indeed, tobacco farmers are not happy about how the levy is being treated. Farmers feel like they were cheated into believing that the levy was meant to support tobacco production by planting trees in order to continuously provide the much-needed resource,” said Zakariya. “For two consecutive seasons now, the levy has been collected, but farmers have not been able to access the levy in order to use it for the purpose for which it is collected.”

Farmer organisations, Zakariya said, had tried to engage TIMB to ensure that the funds are released.

“We have made attempts through the joint council of farmer unions together with Zimbabwe Tobacco Association to have the funds released. These efforts up till now have not yet yielded any meaningful responses,” Zakariya said.
The country’s land reform programme has resulted in the number of tobacco farmers rising over the years, as many small-scale farmers take up the crop.

This season, about 56 000 growers registered to deliver tobacco to the auction floors.

Last season, Zimbabwe produced 200 million kilogrammes of tobacco largely driven by small-scale farmers. Most of the farmers use wood to cure tobacco, hence the introduction of the levy as a way to preserve the environment.