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Zimbabwe is a world tobacco superproducer… but farmers struggle to survive

By Michelle Chifamba
Posted on Tuesday, 29 June 2021 10:58, updated on Wednesday, 30 June 2021 15:11

A woman sorts a bale of tobacco at a processing plant outside Harare
A woman sorts a bale of tobacco at a processing plant outside Harare, Zimbabwe, February 20, 2019. Picture taken February 20, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

Zimbabwe is one of the largest producers of tobacco in Africa, exporting $782m in the 2020 season. But while tobacco is making some people rich, the farmers sucked into contract farming at the bottom of the pile are losing money.

Carved on their faces are visible marks of sorrow as they sit patiently outside one of the country’s tobacco auction floors, in Harare. The small-scale farmers lament the meagre earnings they are likely to receive after the tobacco sales.

Many of the small-scale farmers are struggling, impoverished by merchants who lure them into debt through contract farming. After harvest and sales, the farmers – entangled in debt – see all their proceeds go to serving paying off their debts with local contract companies that supply them with farming inputs at the beginning of the season.