Zimbabwe is a major tobacco producer in Africa and is amongst the world’s largest producers of flue cured tobacco competing with countries such as China, Brazil and the Unites States of America. Operating a tobacco farming business is very rewarding. Tobacco is a major foreign currency earner with exports amounting to at least $481 million (2015) per annum. Since cigarette production is on a small scale, the major activities in this industry are growing, curing, handling and distribution. Tobacco is a successful cash crop opportunity for you to make money, after all making profits is one major reason for going into business.
Over the past few years, tobacco farmers have increased in Zimbabwe and this proves that there is still an opportunity to join this sector. In total, there are at least 140 large scale commercial farmers and at least 4000 small scale farmers. Most of the tobacco farmers in Zimbabwe are contract farmers. You need a good business plan before starting tobacco farming business.
What you need
Knowledge of the different types of tobacco
In Zimbabwe, the common types of tobacco are flue cured, burley and oriental tobacco. Flue cured is the most common and its production is mainly done in the high rainfall areas in the north and east of Harare. In the east of Harare, a thicker slower maturing type is grown whilst in the north the Virginia type of tobacco is grown. The thicker type is mainly used for blended cigarettes. Burley tobacco is grown in the northeast and eastern highlands because the areas have high rainfalls and a prolonged period of high humidity favorable for curing.
It is important that you attend training forums and understand that different regions grow different types of tobacco. Tobacco farming is very challenging and you need to invest your time in acquiring the necessary knowledge because it is knowledge based and the capital outlays are very significant and you can only reap them back if you apply this knowledge appropriately. Areas such as Karoi, Nyazura, Macheke and Marondera are good for tobacco farming.
Small scale commercial farmers plant the crop on at least ten hectares. A larger planting area contributes significantly to output especially if the yield per hectare is managed fairly well. This usually should be 1300kg per hectare. Increase in planting areas and yields contribute significantly to output. Most farmers are freehold owners with the farms belonging to individual, limited liability companies and large corporations it is in your best interest when the farm belongs to you.
Tobacco needs good land preparation. While you prepare land, you need to construct seedbeds and plant the tobacco seeds. These need to be nurtured and watered if for example you have an irrigation system. In two months, you may transplant the crop, by then the plant would have grown to a height of 15-20 cm. The plant should then be left to grow for at least two to three months with good irrigation or rainfall and also proper cultivation. Cultivation helps nurture quality thus maximizing yield and also reduce the rate at which the golden leaf can be attacked by pests.
Harvesting methods differ depending on the type of tobacco. For example burley can be harvested by the whole plant. Leaf by leaf harvesting can be done for the Virginia and oriental tobacco. Monitor and evaluate the progress in the growth of the plant to avoid early harvest.
This is the most critical stage because it influences the quality of the leaf. Depending on your tobacco you may air cure if its burley tobacco, flue cure Virginia tobacco and sun cure oriental tobacco. After curing, the leaf can then be sorted, packed and sent to the tobacco floors.
This should be done right and contributed to the leaf quality. Since they are different types of tobacco there are different types of methods to use such as air curing for burley, flue curing for Virginia, and sun curing for oriental.
Virginia tobacco can be processed to separate the stem and lamina. To dry up the tobacco, you need the right moisture content.
Practice crop rotation
To maintain the land, crop rotation is key and it helps nurture your land with nutrients. Crops such as maize, soybean, maize and ground nuts can be rotated on the land after a period of five years.
Plant and Equipment
You may need modern machinery such as drip line and overhead irrigation and other basic farming equipment. You need to set up curing and harvesting buildings.
Tobacco farming is different and does not follow the regular marketing channels. The target market is made up of merchants and exporters who usually come to assess the product at the tobacco sales floor. Therefore to attract merchants, your tobacco should be of a high quality. The tobacco is bought at auction floors and contract floors in Harare.
There are other associations and businesses that promote, train and help in the expansion of the business for small and large commercial farmers. These are the Zimbabwe Tobacco Association, Tobacco Research Board and Blackfordby. It is important that you network and associate with the above organizations to help increase your knowledge and also stay up to date.
Management and employees
Tobacco farming is a major contributor of rural employment. At least 17 000 people are employed including seasonal employees. The number of employees required to grow and harvest the crop may vary depending on the size of your tobacco farm and also the type of equipment you employ. You will need foremen and many laborers. The tobacco farming business is labor intensive. The managers of the tobacco farm should be well trained in operating a tobacco farming business.
Technical knowledge is essential to succeed in the tobacco farming business. To manage your farm properly you need employees in tobacco research, marketing and manufacturing. Therefore you may need a reforestation technician, leaf technician, irrigation technician, research fellow and the low level workers to till and work the lands.
Challenges of Tobacco Farming Business
The tobacco sector is faced with restrictive challenges such as increase in the promotion of cigarette taxes and campaigns against cigarette smoking in some countries. This affects the amount of tobacco that is exported annually. Relating to Zimbabwe, farmers face challenges during processing due to shortages and electricity cuts. Capital outlays are also a major challenge since farmers may require funds to purchase equipment, buy inputs and pay wages. Capital is quite difficult to assess with no collateral.Most tobacco farmers engage in contract farming. This is whereby the buyers provide the farmers with the inputs for tobacco farming. This reduces the capital required to run a tobacco farming business.
Maximize yield per hectare in order to increase your revenue. For small farmers, a yield of at least 1300 kg per hectare with a price of $3 per kg will make a revenue of at least $3 900 per hectare. Total inputs may be at least $1 500 including costs for firewood, fertilizers, pesticides. For large scale commercial farmers, the profit margins are high depending on the yield per hectare.
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