IN his farm storage, Julio Jairos keeps a dusted and broken-down tractor, partly because as a former mechanic he has a keen interest in machines, but more because it was how he made the shift in life by starting serious farming.
"In 2009, I drove this old tractor to
Jairos, who had little farming know-how, said he was caught by surprise when the managers agreed, offering him loans to buy a tractor and farm inputs.
Bound by a contract, he was expected to sell the tobacco he grew to Tianze to write off the debt. If anything was left, that would be entirely his profit. This model of contract farming continues till this date.
Today, Jairos produces about 60 tons of tobacco from 24 hectares of land and is able to sell them for averagely
Clearing his loan of
"They (Tianze staff) help me build up the farm bit by bit every year. If they had left me, I couldn't do anything and I wouldn't have survived," Jairos told Xinhua on his
The company Jairos refers to is a wholly-owned subsidiary of
Tobacco leaves are sourced from both home and abroad, sustaining the livelihood of small farmers from as far as
But over the years, Tianze managed to secure its leading marketplace on the back of China's unabated demand for tobacco.
With smoking considered a deviant form of life at home,
"Almost all the major cigarette brands in
Overall, tobacco production in
More than 91,000 farmers registered to grow tobacco, an increase of 28.7 percent from a year earlier, according to Finance Minister
Huge China demand ... Demand from China is boosting local tobacco production
Like hundreds of thousands of black farmers in this country, Jairos acquired his plot during the fast-track land reform exercise which started in 2000. Under the programme, more than 220,000 hectares of prime farmland were seized from some 3,500 white settler farmers and allocated to indigenous Zimbabweans.
Critics from the West condemned the reallocation process as a serious violation of human rights and warned that
But the government, led by revolutionary icon President
Tobacco had been grown in
"Tobacco-growing is technical in each and every stage. It really takes a professional farmer to grow tobacco," said Tatenda Mubatapasi, Tianze's production manager who majored in tobacco science in college.
"You miss one step, there is no remedy, and it is going to affect the prices. And it needs big investment - from irrigation to curing barns," Mubatapasi added.
"Banks won't lend if you don't have collateral and the interest rate can go up to 21 percent, both of which are luxury indigenous farmers cannot afford."
Deputy Foreign Minister
Under contract farming, tobacco companies lend to farmers and guide them through the tobacco growing and curing process and in return become the prioritized buyers of tobacco produced by the farmers they assisted.
"If people want to talk about the success of the land reform, the starting point is what we have done with tobacco, which has emerged as the major agricultural export for
Contract farming soon spread to cover cotton, maize, and other crops but none can be as successful as tobacco, the sector that accounts for 10.7 percent of
Government officials say within a few years the country's tobacco production will return to the record of 237 million kg a year achieved before the fast-track land reform went into full swing in 2001.
The only difference is the bumpy harvest will be driven by the majority of indigenous farmers instead of the settler white farmers.
Millionaires Mubatapasi said because of the ties between settler white farmers and the whites-owned or Western tobacco companies, Tianze started out by focusing on partnering the indigenous farmers and, at present, more than half of the big indigenous farmers in Marondera are contracted by Tianze. Some have become millionaires.
Stanley Masaiti, 57, worked on a whites-owned farm in Marondera as a young boy. He was promoted to the position of farm manager before the "fast-track" land reform exercise.
His boss knew that losing the farm was imminent and struck a deal with the authorities to peacefully transfer the ownership of the 120-hectare
Masaiti did contract farming with another tobacco company before joining Tianze in 2008-2009. The loan Tianze gave to Masaiti was massive and it paid off.
"I don't have to worry about the money going into the fields - irrigation, power, and etc., -- that I can focus on raising productivity and improving tobacco quality," Masaiti said, adding that his best quality tobacco leaf can fetch an average selling price of
Masaiti now employs 108 full time workers and another 100 part-timers. Net profit from tobacco growing on the farm goes beyond
Mubatapasi said Masaiti's farm produces probably the best quality tobacco leaf the country can find, a remarkable achievement considering that he has only runs the farm for a less than a decade and faces with stiff competition from white farmers who have been in the business for decades.
"As tobacco companies, we fight for good growers. If you are a good grower, the contract is there," Mubatapasi said. "It is like a scholarship, we are constantly looking for the best growers and assist them."
Masaiti said what he discovered is that there is no short-cut in tobacco farming. The so-called telephone farming in which the farm owner stays in the city and manages the farm by making phone calls is not going to work.
"Any short-cut is certain to backfire," Masaiti said. "The moment you go back to the farm, things have turned upside down."
Analysts say agrarian reform is a slow process and that it takes about a generation for new farmers to be fully productive.
Contract farming in
Starting from scratch, Jairos is now able to share a few tobacco farming tips with newcomers.
"Tobacco farming is all about timing. That is what I have discovered," Jarios said. "If you don't do the right things at the right time, you are not going to get the best tobacco."
Jarios said after improving the irrigation system last year he is now trying to persuade Tianze to chip in for overhauling the curing barns.
"I want to raise my yield from 2.5 tons per hectare to 3.5 tons and the barns are the key," Jarios said.
"If you don't do well, you won't get a loan. That is why I always chase my workers saying 'let's work very hard to make a success.'"
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