By SYLVESTER MWALE –
THE Eastern Fodya Association of Zambia (EFAZ) says up to 70 per cent of tobacco farmers in Zambia may not grow the crop this year after struggling to find the market for their crop in the just-ended marketing season.
EFAZ chairperson Franklin Mwale said most farmers had lost interest in growing the cash crop after finding it hard to find a buyer for the produce.
Most independent farmers struggled to find the market for tobacco after merchants resorted to buy from farmers that were under their schemes only.
Apart from lack of market, the farmers sold their crops at lower prices compared to last year’s marketing season.
“There is no doubt that the volume of tobacco production will drop significantly because of these difficulties that farmers have been subjected to this year,” Mr Mwale said.
“About 70 per cent have lost interest in growing tobacco. We are not happy with the marketing because we lost out, something has to be done to win back the confidence of the farmers.’
Zambia projected to harvest 45 million kilogrammes of burley, virginia and fire tobacco valued at more than K750 million compared to last year’s 41.4 million kilogrammes valued at about K711.3 million.
However, farmers felt deceived after companies opened with lower price offers of as low as 30 cents per kilogramme of the lowest grade of the golden leaf.
The low prices have also forced tobacco farmers in Zambia to form the Western Tobacco Growers’ Union in a bid to protect and spearhead the interest of farmers.
Mr Mwale also called on the Tobacco Board of Zambia (TBZ) to have an accurate number of tobacco farmers in order to make accurate projections of tobacco growing.
Chipata District Farmers Association (CDFA) coordinator Virgil Malambo said tobacco farmers have lost bargaining power as merchants determined the price of the crop.
He said it was sad to note that companies insisted on buying from sponsored farmers only when there were many farmers that had managed to grow the crop using their own resources.
“From what we are hearing, the prices next year could be even worse because the demand levels of tobacco on the international market has reduced,” he said.
“Therefore, we expect a reduction in the production of tobacco especially independent farmers.”