Zimbabwe’s tobacco rebounds amide worries over health, labor

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwe, Africa’s biggest tobacco grower and one of the world’s top exporters of the nicotine leaf, has opened its selling season for the crop amide pledges to fight deforestation and child labor in response to pressure from rights groups, environmentalists and international buyers.

Tobacco is on a rebound in this southern African nation where production plummeted from a peak of 260 million kilograms (290,000 tons) in 1998 to less than 50 million kilograms (60,000 tons) a decade later following the eviction of several thousand white farmers who accounted for the majority of growers.

In recent years Zimbabwe has rapidly increased the size of its crop, regaining its spot as one of the world’s top five exporters of tobacco. It exported just over 200 million kilograms (220,000 tons) of tobacco in 2021, according to the Tobacco Industry Marketing Board.

This year’s crop is expected to be about 10% and 15% smaller due to unfavorable weather, according to one of the country’s biggest merchants TSL Limited.


Tobacco is one of Zimbabwe’s biggest earners of foreign currency alongside minerals such as gold and funds sent by Zimbabweans living outside the country. Tobacco earned Zimbabwe about $1.2 billion in exports last year and the government would like to see that increase “into a $5 billion industry by 2025,” Agriculture Minister Anxious Musuka said at the opening of the tobacco auction season at the end of March.

The government hopes to encourage an increase in the size of the tobacco crop to 300 million kilograms (330,000 tons) annually by providing more local funding to farmers, Musuka said.

With tobacco’s proven role in causing cancer, international marketers are urging Zimbabwe to avoid any other controversy by producing the crop in ways that don’t harm the environment or use child labor.

Most of Zimbabwe’s tobacco is exported to Asian countries, with China the largest single buyer.

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