Zimbabwe is the largest producer of tobacco leaf in Africa and the sixth largest globally. Tobacco leaf is a mainstay of the economy, accounting for about 10% of the country’s GDP in 2018.
We use descriptive and regression analyses from a face-to-face survey of 381 smallholder farmers in three major tobacco-farming areas in Manicaland province to determine the prevalence of tobacco-related debt and some of its covariates. The survey was conducted in June and July 2019.
74% of respondents are contract farmers and 26% are independent farmers. 57% of respondents indicated that they were in tobacco-related debt. The likelihood of being in tobacco-related debt is significantly more than average for farmers with the following characteristics (holding other characteristics constant): being a contract farmer, having a larger farm, employing only family labour and not recording expenses (as a proxy for financial sophistication). 91% of contract farmers would prefer to be independent farmers, while 63% of independent farmers would prefer to be contract farmers.
There is no evidence to suggest that tobacco growing, in its current state, has benefited the tobacco farmers in Manicaland province. Tobacco farmers are largely victims, rather than beneficiaries, of the sector. There is a strong case for government intervention to improve the conditions of tobacco farmers, either through direct intervention in the tobacco-growing sector, or by encouraging and promoting crop substitution.