(By Chambwa Moonga in Kaoma)
SEVERAL Japan Tobacco International model farmers in Nkeyema and Kaoma districts in Western Province say the introduction of a new firewood-saving technical for treating tobacco has greatly reduced labour and is friendly to the environment.
And Japan Tobacco International (JTI) says it will keenly spearhead financial literacy among its farmers.
Speaking when JTI Leaf Zambia Limited corporate affairs and communications manager Litiya Matakala led journalists to visit selected tobacco farmers on Wednesday, Namakau Sikamutuma of Kakanda area in Nkeyema district explained that she now spent less time to collect firewood for the new system of treating tobacco.
“I spend less time now using the new system known as Matope burn, compared to the old system of using a structure called Mungule. For the old system you will probably need three big logs to use as firewood and then they start heating up. So, the amount of time and the quantity of firewood needed to treat tobacco has now drastically reduced,” Sikamutuma, 54, said in Silozi.
“When you use Mungule to treat tobacco, it can take up to 15 days for it to be ready but with the Matope it can take up to seven days. The quality of the treated tobacco itself from the new system is better than when using the old system.”
She added that JTI used her as one of their model farmers in the area and that the firm did trials at her field.
“They are trying to see how different varieties of tobacco will grow here in the field and they provide me with the needed fertiliser and everything to do with the crop. But the crop is mine and I don’t have to pay for anything to JTI. So, I was able to get good money from the trial as a model farmer and then I have benefited in many different ways. I have got a borehole at my home – before I only had a hand-dug well. But JTI has now sunk a borehole right at my home through their village water initiative,” she explained.
Sikamutuma said she cherished the working relationship with JTI and that: “I’m one of the few tobacco farmers with a good wood load (budding planted trees for use as firewood to treat tobacco).”
“I have about 1, 000 trees which I planted. I started growing tobacco in 2007 with Alliance One International and then I moved to Universal Zambia Leaf, which has since closed operations in Zambia, and then I joined JTI. It was so difficult to make money as a tobacco farmer when I was with Alliance One and Universal and it’s because of the huge loans they used to give us. But JTI has minimised the levels of debt that the farmer gets…” said Sikamutuma.
“Since I started working with JTI, I have managed to buy a new hammer mill from Saro using my earnings from last year’s crop. I have built my two units of two-bedroomed houses and now I have a three-bedroomed house in Kaoma town. I have also been able to put a borehole at my houses in Kaoma. Eventually, I want to retire [from growing tobacco] and when I retire, my son will remain here at my farm and I will go and settle in Kaoma town and live in one of my houses while the others will be on rent.”
Kanyanga Tapalo and other farmers gave similar accounts about their growing tobacco with JTI.
And Matakala noted that one’s success in tobacco farming depended on their seriousness.
He said JTI had introduced the adult literacy programme because “we want to encourage our farmers to improve their literacy levels”.
“We are focused on financial literacy so that they can know how to invest their money when they get it. As of last year, all the 7,000 plus JTI farmers have bank accounts. We don’t do cash transactions – everyone has to have a bank account. We now have to start teaching them how to manage the money when it is in the bank account and how you can make investments. A few farmers have that discipline to say when I get K66,000, I have to build a house and put it on rent but some farmers they can get a K25,000 and it’s gone in either a month or two months,” explained Matakala.