Breaking News

Witchcraft

Witchcraft

| May 31, 2011

In addition to the rising cost of production, unclear property rights and limited access to capital, the tobacco grower I visited this morning had to deal with another challenge recently—witchcraft. After several of his workers were killed in a car crash and others contracted mysterious illnesses, farm laborers started accusing each other of casting spells. […]

Read More

In a nutshell

In a nutshell

| May 31, 2011

After visiting a commercial tobacco farm and several leaf merchants, the story that emerges is as follows: Zimbabwe tobacco production used to be dominated by a small number of large-scale tobacco farmers. The majority of these commercial growers were white descendants of British colonists. At independence in 1980, the Zimbabwean government announced it would purchase […]

Read More

Table topics

Table topics

| May 30, 2011

I had dinner with three fellow guests at York Lodge—a Belgian diamond trader, a Brazilian AIDS consultant and a member of the Danish embassy in Zambia. The diamond trader was in Zimbabwe to help the government secure the spoils of a recently discovered field—supposedly among the largest and most easily accessible in the world—and the […]

Read More

Not your money’s worth

Not your money’s worth

| May 30, 2011

I met John Robertson today, a local economist whom I have always admired for his common sense and willingness to speak truth to power. He said the game changer in Zimbabwe has been the “dollarization” of the economy in 2009, which has restored a degree of order to the marketplace. Prior to that, hyperinflation, combined […]

Read More

Portugese chicken

Portugese chicken

| May 29, 2011

Pleasant dinner with my good friend Murray Prince, whom I hadn’t seen for at least eight years. Murray gave me the skinny on tobacco and politics in Zimbabwe—none of it attributable, of course, but his primer will be helpful as I start my workweek.

Read More

Getting my bearings

Getting my bearings

| May 29, 2011

One of the local leaf companies kindly let me borrow a car for the week, which should facilitate logistics considerably. I spent the day with my friend Makiwa, getting my bearings in Harare. I have a basic knowledge of the city from previous visits, but things are different when you are driving yourself. For starters, […]

Read More

Life is good again

Life is good again

| May 29, 2011

After traveling for nearly 24 hours, watching four movies and almost finishing a badly written book on the Hells Angels motorcycle club, I am enjoying a Zambezi beer in front of my room at York Lodge in Highlands, Harare. During past visits, I’ve flown from the United States through either Johannesburg or London. Due to […]

Read More

And the winners are…

And the winners are…

| December 1, 2009

Announcing the 2009 Golden Leaf Awards winners TR Staff Report Representatives of Sopariwala Exports, Filligent Ltd., U.S. Flue-Cured Tobacco Growers Inc. and Andromeda Forwarding received their Golden Leaf Awards trophies during a festive ceremony in the Globe restaurant on the 23rd floor of the Centara Grand Hotel in Bangkok. Against the breathtaking backdrop of Bangkok’s […]

Read More

One journey ends, another begins

One journey ends, another begins

| June 28, 2008

With the container delivered to Beira, our journey has come to an end. Alex will return to Lilongwe with a load of grain, and I will fly back to the United States to prepare an article for Tobacco Reporter’s print issue about the logistics of tobacco in southern Africa. Our cargo, on the other hand, […]

Read More

Cash

Cash

| June 10, 2008

Zimbabwe’s hyperinflation continues to fascinate me. I’ve seen photos of people getting trays full of change after paying for a beer in a bar. The money depreciates so quickly that Zimbabweans must spend their earnings instantly on items that hold their value better than the does beleaguered currency—which is pretty much anything these days. Apparently, […]

Read More

Fees

Fees

| June 6, 2008

Even as the Mozambican police force is less corrupt than it was in the past, plenty of parties continue to demand “facilitation fees.” Prior to entering the port of Beira, truck drivers must clear their paperwork at a decrepit customs building just outside the gate. Some 20 young men are hanging around with no obvious […]

Read More

Back on the road again

Back on the road again

| June 5, 2008

Traffic is light and consists mostly of trucks. We also encounter several overloaded busses heading in the opposite direction. “Mozambicans and Malawians fleeing anti-immigrant violence in South Africa,” explains Alex. At times, he pulls over to chat with a fellow Transcom Sharaf driver. Because Alex’s truck is the newest and most modern in the fleet, […]

Read More

Who wants to be a billionaire?

Who wants to be a billionaire?

| June 4, 2008

The new Zimdollar is a note of 5 billion, not 50 billion as I wrote earlier. All the same, it means that Zimbabwe not only has the world’s best performing stockmarket, but also the greatest number of billionaires. Five billion Zimbabwe dollars equals US$2.50 today–probably half of that tomorrow. Have fun counting zeros when buying […]

Read More

Slow-motion slalom

Slow-motion slalom

| June 4, 2008

The first part of our journey progresses smoothly. Malawi’s roads appear to be in relatively good condition. I mentioned that to Guy Harvey upon arrival in Lilongwe, but he just grinned. “Just wait until you get to Mozambique,” he said. But the roads on the other side of the border are just as smooth. “This […]

Read More

Day-to-day

Day-to-day

| June 4, 2008

Trucker is a popular profession in Africa. Not only does it pay comparatively well, it also offers drivers an opportunity to run all sorts of businesses on the side, such as smuggling cigarettes, transporting passengers and diverting fuel. A representative of a Zimbabwean trucking company tells the story of one driver who didn’t bother to […]

Read More

Cobs and robbers

Cobs and robbers

| June 3, 2008

We encounter our first police stop at the outskirts of Lilongwe, but the officer waves us through. Malawi police are relatively relaxed, and those in Mozambique have gotten much better as the country’s economy improves. In the 1990s, with memories of the civil war still fresh, the police in Mozambique were notorious for shaking down […]

Read More

Alex

Alex

| June 2, 2008

Today, we will drive the first part of our journey, from Lilongwe to Tete, where we will spend the night near Mozambique Leaf Tobacco Co.’s leaf processing facility. Our cargo: 20 tons of Malawi burley from Alliance One, destined for Philip Morris Germany. To ensure their guest is comfortable, Transcom Sharaf has assigned me to […]

Read More

Diesel

Diesel

| June 2, 2008

In addition to accelerated vehicle wear and tear, transportation companies operating in Africa incur another expense that their counterparts in Europe and the United States seldom have to take into account—fuel theft by drivers. The driver will stop and sell small quantities of diesel to villagers, who siphon it out of the fuel tank into […]

Read More

Lilongwe, Malawi

Lilongwe, Malawi

| May 30, 2008

Insiders quip that the transportation business will turn your hair fully gray by age 40. This prediction could of course easily be dismissed as one of those professional folklores that can be heard in any line of business where a heavy workload is common. But in transportation and logistics, premature aging actually seems to be […]

Read More

Share your experiences

Share your experiences

| May 30, 2008

As I share my experiences traveling on a tobacco transport, I invite you to share yours using the comment function at the end of each post. It might require registration but shouldn’t be too much of a hassle. In particular, I’d like to invite employees of Transcom Sharaf to participate in this blog by sharing […]

Read More

Thank you

Thank you

| March 3, 2008

Noel and I are back in the Tobacco Reporter office now, and this will be my last official post. I would like to thank you for joining us on this exciting journey. Your virtual presence added a whole new dimension to editorial travel We received many comments, suggestions and words of wisdom—both through the feedback […]

Read More

Bloodbath

Bloodbath

| February 29, 2008

As the plane taxis toward the runway for the flight back to Miami, I reflect on our mission. While I learned a lot about the illicit trade from legitimate manufacturers, I didn’t manage to talk my way into a Paraguayan cigarette factory supplying the black market. That means I cannot report on the types of […]

Read More

Meanwhile, back at the gate

Meanwhile, back at the gate

| February 28, 2008

Pablo tells me to remain in the car as he walks up to the gate. He talks with the guard, occasionally pointing in my direction. I am not sure how to behave. Should I wave, pretending to be a regular visitor, or should I ignore the two, as if I am preoccupied with the latest […]

Read More

Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires

| February 27, 2008

As I write these words, Noel and I are enjoying the evening sun on a terrace in Buenos Aires, hundreds of miles from the tri-border area. Described as the Paris of South America—but with palm trees—Buenos Aires is a far cry from the bedlam of Ciudad del Este. But contrary to what their appearances suggest, […]

Read More

To the factory

To the factory

| February 25, 2008

Pablo motions for me to have a seat behind the counter of the money exchange booth and starts making calls on his cell phone. The director of the factory turns out to be in Asuncion, Paraguay’s capital, and my new friend seems to be trying to track down somebody who can authorize my visit in […]

Read More