I was surprised to run into Patrick Rose at Northern Tobacco in Harare. I had met Patrick several years ago when he was looking after BAT’s leaf growing operations in Uganda, and he seemed to enjoy being back in his home country.
Later that morning, I caught up with Zhang Qinggang, managing director of Tianze Tobacco, a subsidiary of the China National Tobacco Corp. The Chinese have become a significant player in Zimbabwe lately, at times purchasing up to 40 percent of the crop.
Like other manufacturers, CNTC has become concerned about security of supply in recent years. In April 2005, it established Tianze. Today the company contracts with 170 farmers (both small-scale and commercial) and also purchases at auction.
Echoing concerns in some parts of the world about China’s rise as an economic superpower, some in Zimbabwe have expressed discomfort with the growing Chinese role in the leaf tobacco sector.
Zhang was keen to stress that Tianze was not “taking over” Zimbabwe’s tobacco business. “We want to support the industry, play by the rules and contribute to healthy market conditions,” he said, adding that up to 98 percent of the company’s employees were local.