Tobacco farmers in Zimbabwe, Africa’s largest tobacco producer, are pinning their economic hopes on the addictive plant. Despite anti-smoking campaigns ahead of the World Health Organization’s No Tobacco Day on May 31, farmers say the crop is one of their biggest sources of income. After quitting journalism at a government-controlled company four years ago, 39-year-old Itai Mazire went into farming.
This year, he expects to sell at least 9,000 kilograms of tobacco from his eight-hectare plot, about 150 kilometers east of Harare. Mazire says delayed selling seasons, due to the coronavirus pandemic, forced him to dip into his savings to pay workers. But Mazire says his harvest this year was the biggest ever and he expects sales to more than double that of 2020.
After gold, tobacco is Zimbabwe’s biggest foreign currency earner. The cash-strapped government expects earnings this year to jump from last year’s $452 million U.S. dollars to $800 million. Campaigners say Zimbabwe should instead work to replace tobacco, which is known to cause cancer, with other crops that are less damaging to health. The World Health Organization says tobacco kills more than eight million people each year globally.