Zimbabwe’s tobacco exports in 2014 was 235 percent higher than that of 2009, and the government is keen to leverage this to fuel an agricultural boom. However, the government is also engaged in an active campaign to discourage citizens from smoking.
Zimbabwe’s tobacco industry is now the major propellant of the country’s agricultural sector, which collapsed over the decade ago following President Robert Mugabe’s seizure of white-owned farms. Currently, there are more than 90,000 tobacco farmers in the country. They are said to prefer growing the crop, locally known as “green gold”, because of the availability of an enthusiastic market, prompt payment, and the provision of advance funding for seeds and equipment by marketing companies.
China is the main market for Zimbabwe’s tobacco and one of the major reasons for the industry’s boom. The Asian giant is the world’s biggest tobacco market, with 300 million smokers . According to the country’s Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB), 40 percent of the 218 million kilos produced in Zimbabwe last year 2014 went to China, more than double of the 18 percent recorded in 2010.
Although China accounted for 40 percent of Zimbabwe’s tobacco exports last year, the southern African country made half of its $823 million export income from the Asian giant because Chinese buyers paid more than other importing countries. Chinese Cigarette makers reportedly pay a premium for Zimbabwe’s tobacco because it is of higher quality and used as flavouring in Cigarette making.
The thriving tobacco industry is also attracting more investments. Bankers Association of Zimbabwe advocacy officer, Clive Maphambela, told Reuters that banks plan to lend $1 billion to agriculture this year, with nearly 60 percent to go to tobacco farming. This is 28 percent higher than bank loans to the whole agriculture sector in 2014 and 50 percent higher than that of 2013.
The government has however argued that the scaling up of Zimbabwe’s tobacco production does not pose an increased health risk from smoking. It argues that the country consumes less than 5 percent of its tobacco output. “We don’t smoke much of it. The Chinese smoke most of it,” Mugabe is quoted as saying last week in Pretoria, South Africa. “We will grow for those who want to smoke it. You should listen to what your doctor says. But if you over smoke, don’t blame us,” he added, drawing raucous laughter from Zimbabwean and South African government ministers and reporters.