THE climate-change-induced dry spell that charactarised the month of December threatened tobacco planting at a time authorities have set high targets to produce a total of 250 million kg of tobacco for the 2021/22 season in line with a more broader target of a US$5 billion tobacco industry by 2025.The rains that came through last month brought some ray of hope. Currently, the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) and Agritex are undertaking a crop assessment exercise in all the regions where tobacco is grown to establish this year’s tobacco output. Our Business Reporter Fidelity Mhlanga (FM) spoke to TIMB Chief Executive Officer Meanwell Gudu (MG). Below are the excerpts:
- Fact file: Meanwell Gudu
- He joined TIMB in October 2008 as Technical Services Executive.
- Prior to joining TIMB, Meanwell served as Head of Field Services Division at Tobacco Research Board (TRB).\l He also previously served as Director for Tobacco Development at the Agricultural and Rural Development Authority (ARDA).
- Meanwell attended the advanced Executive Development Programme at Stanford University Graduate School of Business (Stanford Executive Programme).
- He is a holder of an MBA, Post Graduate Diploma in Management for Executives, BSc. Agriculture degree among other qualifications.
FM: What is the expected tobacco output this year?
MG: As per the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water, and Rural Development’s State of Preparedness for the 2021/2022 summer cropping season, the target is to produce a total of 250 million kg of tobacco for the 2021/22 season.
FM: Statistics show that there is a decline in the number of farmers who have registered to grow the tobacco crop this year compared to last year. What could be the reason?
MG: As we are looking ahead to the rebranding of TIMB, we have improved our processes and systems. The vetting and verification processes for farmer registration and grower number renewal are tighter. Many farmers were tried and fell short of the requirements. That is why we have a slight decline in hectarage and the number of registered farmers. We place more pride in having legitimate farmers who are productively growing tobacco. Our emphasis is in the quality of tobacco produced rather than quantity.
FM: What is the hectarage under tobacco this season as compared to last year?
MG:. As of week ending January 28, 112 619 ha were grown during the 2021/22 season as compared to 110 155 ha planted this year.
FM: What is the percentage under irrigation versus that on dryland?
MG: As of the week ending January 28, 18 510 ha were under irrigation while 91 592 ha were under dryland.
FM: We received late rains. Tell us how the crop is fairing in the fields. Any problems?
MG: TIMB and Agritex are currently undertaking a crop assessment exercise in all the regions where tobacco is grown. The four-week long exercise is expected to yield results which will inform all stakeholders about the national yield, current state of the crop in the field and challenges farmers may be facing, among other key issues. Even with the late rains we received, the crop in most tobacco growing regions is looking “fair to good”. We are encouraging farmers to use aphicides to protect the crop from being attacked by aphids which is a viral disease synonymous with the late crop.
FM: Any update about the US$60 million tobacco value chain transformation fund from the government? Why was it not available?
MG: TIMB is also a beneficiary of the fund as it seeks to support increased tobacco production. We cannot comment on why the fund was not made available. Kindly get in touch with the relevant authorities.
FM: How many buyers and merchants have registered this season?
MG: The process is still underway and the list has not yet been approved by relevant authorities for dissemination.
FM: When is the tobacco marketing season expected to commence this year.
MG: As of now, we cannot give the date of when the season will commence. TIMB and Agritex are carrying out a crop assessment exercise which will determine and guide the relevant authorities as to when the marketing season will commence.
FM: Some tobacco buyers have been blamed for failing to pay farmers from last season. Any punitive measures being done to them.
MG: We are encouraging all farmers who have not been paid by any buyer to come through to TIMB so that we can assist in ensuring they receive their money. The issue of delayed payments and other non-compliance issues in the industry will be strenuously looked into come the onset of the 2022 marketing season. Those who fail to comply will be brought to book.
FM: Are we on course to reach the US$5 billion target by 2025?
MG: We are optimistic the target can be attained, for the just ended season, TIMB recorded 211 million kg of tobacco which surpassed the set target of 200 million kg.