Just as we feared, tobacco farmers camping outside the Tobacco Association of Zambia floors have suffered a devastating setback.
Their tobacco has been drenched in the heavy downpour that surprised Lusaka in the last two day. It is not clear if they will be able to salvage the produce due to the damp weather that followed the downpour.
This debacle represents the worst possible example of an uncaring and distant Government.
Just because the tobacco farmers are not politicians who could not make a big political fuss their plight has been ignored while the relevant authorities continue to profess their unwavering support to agriculture.
Such assurances and promises are hollow and at best totally meaningless.
The least Zambians expect is a caring and mindful Government that will respond to their needs. They expect Government to be the market of last resort when their efforts fail.
The process of diversifying the economy will not succeed for as long as the efforts of individuals will not be taken into account. These tobacco farmers w are individuals who have high expectations that their labour would pay but this has not been the case because the authorities have failed them.
Tobacco farmers held great expectation of selling their crop in Lusaka because marketing arrangements in Eastern Province, for example, were mired in controversy as a result no formal market was established.
As expected briefcase traders took advantage of the situation and were purchasing at ridiculously low prices.
We are of course mindful that some farmers decided to sell independently to avoid paying back the cost of inputs they may have obtained on credit, but this should be the reason for denying them an opportunity to sell, if anything Government must look into the entire process of input supply, repayment and marketing to ensure that the system works equitably.
In all this Government has been absolutely silent and yet foreign investors have seen tremendous value and potential in Zambian tobacco and have invested heavily.
Early this year it was announced that Japan Tobacco International (JTI) Leaf Zambia has invested K12 million on inputs and out-grower schemes for tobacco production in this year’s farming season this is an increase from K11million last year.
The company has noted that Zambia has tremendous potential for tobacco and other agriculture produce as a result the company has been working more than 15 commercial farmers in Eastern, Central and Western provinces of Zambia.
The company has gone beyond purchasing tobacco; it has engaged in research to develop tobacco varieties and improved seed varieties.
The company had even acquired land in Chisamba in the interest of increasing participation and market share.
This is a vote of confidence from a foreign company that ordinarily should simply be interested in the bottom line. It has invested in Zambia because there is promise, all the more the reason why Government should take keen interest in the crop.
However from current experience the Government is least interested in the crop and chances are that nobody in the Ministry of Agriculture has any direct oversight function over tobacco as a high value crop. This is typical of the indifference that Government has shown to the alternative economy which holds more promise than traditional mining and manufacturing.
There is no doubt that agriculture holds tremendous potential to develop this country by ensuring food security, creation of employment and addition of value to the national economy.
The starting point however is Government commitment to agriculture.