To appreciate the shift that has taken place in the Zimbabwean tobacco industry over the past decade, consider these figures: In 2000, approximately 4,000 growers sold 240 million kg. This year, the Zimbabwe Tobacco Association is expecting sales of about 160 million kg—produced by a whopping 60,000 farmers.
Designed for commercial production, the country’s marketing infrastructure is bursting at the seams. Whereas in the past a single farmer might deliver 100 bales, now hundreds of farmers will queue up to deliver three or five bales each.
And the farmers don’t come by themselves. Often, they are accompanied not only by family members but also by creditors who hope to collect before the farmer spends his paycheck.
In May, the line of tobacco growers and their entourage at the Tobacco Sales Floors stretched for five kilometers, according to a leaf merchants whose offices overlook the auction.
The presence of so many people with fresh cash in their pockets, in turn, has attracted others hoping to sell to them their goods and services. Makeshift marketplaces have sprung up around all three tobacco auctions in Harare, offering everything from tractors to telephone cards.
Some are even more ambitious. I had dinner last night with Temba Mliswa—an interesting character worth Googling—who wants to open a fourth tobacco auction near the Boka floor. He’s already filed an application with the Tobacco Marketing and Industry Board. While not everybody in the trade believes expanding capacity is the way to go—some prefer optimizing operations at the existing facilities—Mliswa’s plans underscore the extent of the changes taking place in Zimbabwe.