Nkeyema district in Western Province has this year produced more than 4,000 tonnes of tobacco worth over US$5 million.
Nkeyema district commissioner Fridah Luhila made the disclosure on the occasion to mark the official opening of the 2015 national tobacco marketing season at the Japan Tobacco International (JTI) Rosewood Sales Floors in Nkeyema yesterday.
In a speech read on her behalf by Nkeyema district administrative officer, Patrick Mweemba, Mrs Luhila said over 2,700 hectares of tobacco was cultivated resulting in a huge injection of money into the district’s economic lifeline.
And Agriculture Minister, Given Lubinda, in a speech read for him by his deputy Maxas Ng’ona, said a total of 33,500 metric tonnes of tobacco valued at approximately US$190.7 million was produced in the country last year.
Mr Lubinda said that it is, however, projected that this year there will be a slight reduction in tobacco production to about 27,000 metric tonnes whose value is pegged at US$155 million.
He said the tobacco industry plays an important role in the nation’s economy and the livelihoods of rural farmers as it employs over 450,000 people directly countrywide.
Mr Lubinda said government recognizes the potential of the tobacco industry to economic development and it is, therefore, making concerted efforts to create an enabling environment for all key players in the sector by introducing various policy and legislative reforms.
He said some of the reforms include the amendment to existing pieces of legislation such as the Tobacco Act and the Tobacco Levy Act in addition to enhancing the knowledge and skills of expertise involved in tobacco production.
Mr Lubinda said the policy and legislative reforms that government has embarked on will contribute to the desired growth of the tobacco industry in Zambia, adding that, increased productivity and enhanced value addition to tobacco is the only avenue through which to increase earnings.
He said that only 13 percent of small-scale farmers have access to credit and commended the tobacco industry for helping small-scale farmers to access finance and credit facilities through the out-grower schemes.
The Agriculture Minister said that government expects that the floor price for tobacco in 2015 will be determined in a transparent and participatory manner with all players in the industry.
Mr Lubinda said that government has noted with sadness, the continued employment of under-age persons in the tobacco industry and urged those involved in the vice to strictly conform to the labour laws of the country.
Meanwhile, Tobacco Board of Zambia (TBZ) Board Secretary, Samson Muyembe, urged tobacco farmers to cooperate with their sponsors by repaying loans, avoiding side-trading and keeping away from illicit trade.
Mr Muyembe said the tobacco industry world-over has marketing challenges arising from over production and over supply and TBZ with its stakeholders should strategically put in place a sustainable tobacco marketing system which will facilitate a fair price for the grower and merchant.
He said there is also need to complete the regulatory reform proceedings that are currently underway to review the Tobacco Acts to align tobacco legislation to the current challenges and contemporary issues affecting the industry.
And JTI Leaf Zambia general manager Mike Roach said the new Rosewood Sales Floors are the most modern tobacco trading facility in Zambia that will allow the company to buy tobacco in more quantities and at a quicker pace.
Mr Roach said this will result in farmers being paid at a faster rate as the facility has been brought close to the farmers and it is an indication that JTI’s investment in Zambia is long-term despite the industry’s ups and downs.
At the same event, Western Tobacco Leaf Association chairperson, Richard Kamocha, said there is need to train farmers in tobacco production as tobacco grading comes with the good grading of the crop.
Mr Kamocha thanked the industry stakeholders for the continued support to farmers and called on government to introduce an initiative such as the Farmer Input Support Programme (FISP) for tobacco farmers in the country.
He said the PF government’s good agricultural policies have translated in huge investments such as that of JTI which has brought about continued support to farmers and has created jobs.