REVELATIONS by the Tobacco Industry Marketing Board (TIMB) that it is — in a very big way — promoting diversification into food and fibre production in its constituency of traditionally tobacco-growing farmers are refreshing.
TIMB says it has been accredited by the Global Good Agricultural Practices, an international trademark and set of standards for good agricultural practices, to produce safe food and fibre, while safeguarding the environment and the welfare of farming communities.
This is, indeed, a most welcome development on the back of events surrounding tobacco production and trade as nations, through the United Nations, push for a total ban on tobacco smoking for the sake of the globe’s health.
While TIMB public affairs officer Chelesani Tsarwe tells us that the “intention of diversification … is not to outrightly substitute the tobacco enterprise, but to complement it while sustaining and improving farmers’ livelihoods and promoting sustainability”, it is heartening that the organisation is wary of the dangers of the tobacco farmers’ continued reliance on the so-called golden leaf whose future arguably hangs in the balance.
We have previously pointed out that Zimbabwe needs to seriously introspect on its heavy reliance on tobacco, especially after the World Health Organisation (WHO) ironically observed that many of the world’s food insecure nations are top tobacco producers.
“There are more than 350 million people having hunger and food insecurity issues, and many of the countries where these issues are a concern are also big tobacco growing economies. In Africa, for example, in the last 15 years, the growth of tobacco has gone up by nearly 20%,” a WHO senior advisor and programme manager, tobacco control, Vinayak Mohan Prasad has since pointed out.
It is in this light that we commend TIMB for being alive to this glaring anomaly by promoting food production in its constituency of tobacco farmers.
We, however, encourage TIMB to use its marketing prowess to source for export markets for the food and fibre crops that its farmers will produce because at the moment many of the country’s farmers lack the expertise to market and sell their crops globally.
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Experience has shown that Zimbabwean farmers are quick to respond to calls for action on any farming issue, but much of their produce ends up going to waste, come selling season.
TIMB needs to identify potential markets before engaging the farmers, who should be equipped with the knowledge and information on producing export quality food crops; otherwise the entire exercise will come to naught.
Farmers need to be incentivised by being availed with immediate and guaranteed access to markets for their produce, a key component for the success of the organisation’s diversification programme.
TIMB can also toy around with the idea of value addition of the crops its farmers will produce for both local and international markets. This way, the organisation can help turn the country into a renowned food producing nation, as well as regain its long lost regional food basket status.