Chinese farmers are investing in tobacco production, growing tobacco on formerly white-owned farms, and paying rent to landowners who were given the farms seized by Zimbabwe’s ruling Zanu-PF, Times Live reported.
At least five farms are being worked by Chinese farmers in Mashonaland Central — one of Zimbabwe’s best tobacco-producing areas northwest of Harare.
China has become the largest investor in Zimbabwe, where unemployment is near 90 percent and the economy hasn’t yet recovered from hyperinflation and land seizures of 2000, The Telegraph reported.
The Chinese have invested in farm equipment — some from the U.S. company Valley Irrigation — and paid for advice from international experts, safe in the knowledge that President Robert Mugabe’s policy of strengthening ties with China will offer them a degree of protection.
The five Chinese-run farms are expected to grow and cure about 1,500 acres of tobacco this year.
The Chinese have entered many sectors of the economy under Zimbabwe’s Look East policy, but until recently avoided white-owned farms liberated by Mugabe and the ruling Zanu-PF, Independent Online reported.
Robert Makosa, 42, worked on a white-owned farm 20 years ago.
Makosa got hired nearby a Chinese chrome mining company, San He, which is now investing heavily in farming tobacco. “We do mining and farming now,” Makosa told IOL.
Zimbabwe’s land reforms empowered about 60,000 small-scale black tobacco farmers who grow lower grades of tobacco. About 120 white farmers are still growing tobacco — though in smaller crops than they did before — and they’re getting top prices for their tobacco, Independent Online reported. Many of the large-scale farms distributed among Mugabe’s cronies did not fare as well, Times Live reported.
About 3,000 white farmers were evicted from nearly 7 million hectares (17.3 million acres) of land and the land was nationalized, according to Independent Online.
A generation of evicted white farmers moved to neighboring countries including Zambia and Mozambique, where they are now exporting maize and food to feed starving Zimbabweans, Zim News reported.
Chinese nationals have almost full control of mining and construction business in Zimbabwe, according to Zim News.
Mugabe has fast-tracked the controversial land redistribution program to Chinese nationals, triggering another would-be social media “must fall” movement — #Chinesefarmersmustfall — according to Masasie eHarare.
Zimbabwe land reform started in 2000. The stated goal was to resettle thousands of blacks. However, the majority ended up on rocky and infertile land while the wealthier land distribution recipients got prime plots.
Agricultural production decreased and the agro-based commerce shrank. Zimbabwe became internationally isolated, accused of racist policy and human rights abuses against white farmers.
Large-scale farm operations were once the backbone of the Zimbabwean agricultural industry, but they collapsed, New Observer reported.
Some locals say their Chinese employers underpay them. Other say they are being paid minimum wage.
“The Chinese are spending money,” said one farm worker in an Independent Online report. He said there are now plenty of jobs in the district. He and others said they earn minimum wage for new workers — about $4.17 a day, plus some room and board.
A Chinese company will be paying rent for the land it uses to grow tobacco to the “Zanu-PF political men,” Independent Online reported.
Most of the Chinese workers on Zimbabwe tobacco farms were also employed by the San He mining company, which extracts chrome in Zimbabwe. The firm has been accused by Zimbabwe’s Environment Management Authority of environmental degradation around its chrome extraction plant.
Here’s how some readers feel about Chinese farming tobacco in Zimbabwe at New Observer:
“The Chinese would do well to think long and hard before committing themselves and getting their fingers seriously burnt. Far too risky a project …. learn by the mistakes of others.”
“The Chinese should be very, very wary, because history says that their security should not be taken for granted.”
“The Chinese are buying up property all over Africa. They may well be more successful than white settlers as they take the precaution of bringing their own security. I think Chinese paramilitary guards will be more than a match for the locals!”
“Ultimately they had to get someone in there who could take the deserts that used to be richly-productive farms, and get them producing again.”
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