(By Chambwa Moonga in Kaoma)
JAPAN Tobacco International says while Zambia is the smallest tobacco producing country in the region, the country has the largest potential to grow the cash crop.
Briefing journalists on Tuesday afternoon in Kaoma, Japan Tobacco International (JTI) Leaf Zambia Limited corporate affairs and communications manager Litiya Matakala explained why his firm chose to grow tobacco in Zambia.
He later led journalists to tour JTI’s operations based at Rose wood in Kaoma.
JTI is a leading tobacco products company.
“Currently, we are the third largest in the world and our goal is to become number one by 2030. When it comes to Zambia, JTI established itself in 2009…” Matakala said.
“We contract farmers to grow tobacco in Zambia. We grow two types of tobacco, burley in the Eastern Province and Virginia, which is grown here in the Western Province, Kaoma. We basically provide input loans and extension services to our growers. So, we have a team of leaf production technicians who are extension officers who work closely with the farmers to grow the tobacco. In terms of the number of growers as we speak now, from the 120 or so farmers, we are now sitting at over 4,000 growers in Kaoma. Overall, we have about 7,000 farmers that we contract year in, year out.”
He said JTI had a research centre in Chisamba district where it does trials for new tobacco varieties and “see how we can improve yields.”
Matakala added that as of this year, JTI had about 201 permanent employees countrywide while another 330 were employed on a temporally basis annually.
“For the 2018 crop season, we had a production of about 11.2 million Kgs of tobacco valued at about US$23.1 million. Why choose to come and grow tobacco in Zambia? In the region Zambia is the smallest tobacco producing country but it has the largest potential. Zimbabwe currently grows over 200 million Kgs, Zambia is at about 25 million Kgs, Malawi is at 165 million Kgs, Mozambique is at 85 million. So, we are very small. Other countries are progressively increasing their production [but] in Zambia it’s been a very slow process,” Matakala explained.
“There are a number of things that need to be worked on in terms of the regulatory environment and how the Ministry of Agriculture is going to position the crop (tobacco) because in the Seventh National Development Plan it’s identified as a key crop and it’s a key crop. When you look at the returns per hectare compared to other crops, there is definitely more value in tobacco production than there is in other cash crops.”
He stressed that Zambia produced quality tobacco albeit “it’s a small volume production.”
“The land availability is good; far much better than Zimbabwe which is the largest producing country of Virginia tobacco in this part of the world,” he said.
On sustainability of the business and its impact on the environment, Matakala said: “For JTI we take environmental issues seriously. Over the past four, five years we have been implementing a number of projects; we are planting trees and we’ve also started investing in more efficient tobacco curing facilities.”
“So, in terms of wood loads (planted trees for using to cure tobacco), we’ve got about 1,750 wood loads which are established and each wood load has 200 trees. Over the next three years, all our farmers will have a wood load, starting this year,” he said.
Meanwhile, Matakala disclosed that in terms of tonnage for Virginia in 2017, “we had 4.6 million Kgs and that was [from] 3,500 growers. Then for this year we’ve got about 4,185 growers and tonnage [is estimated to be] 5.8 million Kgs.”