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Following harvest, flue-cured tobacco undergoes an energy-intensive drying process (curing) in a specialised barn in which heated air extracts water from the tobacco leaves. These barns are usually fuelled by wood; the drying process lasts seven days. As such, tobacco curing entails excessive wood consumption.
The tobacco crop is important to Zimbabwe’s agriculture and the national economy as it is almost entirely exported. Without diversifying the structure of agriculture in Zimbabwe it will be impossible to reduce its dependency on tobacco revenue. Still, small-scale tobacco growers could shift from tobacco to other crops if an alternative crop that does not reduce their income is introduced.

Without woodlots or plantations, smallholder farmers need to look for alternative sources of energy other than indigenous trees. The cutting down of trees poses a disastrous threat to the environment, and could ultimately be the demise of the tobacco industry.
The International Tobacco Growers Association (ITGA) defines Specific Fuel Consumption (SFC) as expressed in kilograms of wood used per one kilogram of cured tobacco, in cubic metres per tonne of tobacco produced, and cubic metres per farm. When it comes to the firewood use of flue, the range of SFC is as low as 5 kg and as high as 130 kg. One hectare of smallholder farming produces about 1400 kg of tobacco and that requires seven tonnes of firewood cure.
Farmers cut down approximately 5.3 million trees each year as a part of tobacco production. To replace the resulting loss of natural forest, Zimbabwe farmers would need to plant 14 million trees every year.

According to the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources Management, 46 015 hectares of forests have been destroyed and 1,38 million cubic metres of firewood have been burned to cure part of the 127 million kilogrammes of tobacco delivered to the auction floors.

The ministry issued notices to all flue-cured tobacco growers across the country that no farmer will be allowed to grow tobacco in the 2010/2011 planting season without a woodlot or coal for the curing process; however, that issuance was neither followed, nor enforced.

In Southern Africa an estimated 140,000 hectares of woodlands (65,000 hectares in Zimbabwe alone) are cleared annually to cure tobacco, accounting for 12 percent of the deforestation in the region.

As a consequence of the entrance of inexperienced new tobacco farmers, tobacco production that uses an inefficient curing system, erratic electricity supply, and a shortage of coal, deforestation has increased as farmers have resorted to using woody biomass as fuel for curing.

A study by the Food and Agriculture Organisation in 2005 estimated the annual deforestation rate in Zimbabwe to be 312 900 ha, while the latest estimates indicate that deforestation has since escalated to 330 000 ha per year.

The average fuel consumption is two kilograms of coal for each kilogram of cured tobacco. Efficient curing management and improved barn structures in Zimbabwe will enable small-scale growers to improve this figure to 1.2kg of coal for each kilogram of cured leaf. A new concept of tobacco curing by means of recycling hot air is being tested. This has the advantage of being more energy efficient.

The Solution
Smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe continue to grow tobacco because of the tremendous financial incentives from multinational corporations. With enticements such as farming supplies, or a guaranteed foreign exchange for their crops, farmers are reluctant to use their land for anything else.

Faced with dwindling sources of wood fuel, PAAP proposes to address the problem by assisting smallholder tobacco farmers to plant trees.

The average smallholder farmer will use approx 43 m3 of fuel wood (~ 15,000 kg)/yr to produce an average of 1400 kg of finished tobacco from a 1 hectare plot. This costs the farmer ~US$400/hectare (1/3 of his income) for firewood. 2/3 of that cost is for transport. Deforestation is being caused by increasing wood demands for household use and tobacco curing.

It is estimated that a barn with well-insulated walls, roof, and floor, can save 10-20% of fuel consumed per cure. Another practical energy-efficient curing measure is harvesting only ripe tobacco, which requires a shorter curing time and thus less heat loss.

Trees should be planted in the form of woodlots with homestead and garden boundaries, along stream/river banks and roadsides. A wide range of trees should be planted to include indigenous and exotic species and fruit trees.
• Planting local bamboo can reduce the use of wood for roofing materials, granaries, baskets, mats, fences and other uses.
• Introducing fuel efficient kitchen mud stoves can reduce use of fuel wood by up to 50%.
• Soil and water conservation measures must include contour ridging, vetiver hedgerows and rehabilitation of gullies.
• Soil fertility enrichment by interplanting soil will improve trees/shrubs such as Faidherbia albida and Tephrosia vogelii with crops.
• Introducing small-scale irrigation systems for producing vegetables, legumes and green maize will improve food security, nutrition, and incomes.
• Promoting safe water and eco-friendly pit latrines in villages will reduce risk of water-borne diseases. A secondary aim would be to reduce demands for wood used in constructing traditional latrines and to supply decomposed human waste to safely fertilise crops.

Reforestation programmes are undoubtedly the best solution to this predicament. Tree planting has always posed a challenge for rural communities given the high demand for land for growing food crops, wood for fuel, and timber for construction.
Without a coal supplier, the tobacco farmers have resorted to tree-felling to get fuel for tobacco curing. Such a rapid depletion of trees in an already semi-arid climate will lead to desertification.
The Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) forecasts that tobacco production could grow to 350 million kg annually in three to four years – provided there is adequate financial support – thanks to demands from the European Union and China, with each purchasing about 40 percent of the country’s tobacco crop.
For a country producing more than 50 million kg of tobacco, 350 000 tonnes of wood would be needed if every farmer used wood for curing every year. This translates to 16 500 hectares of plantation of forest.
Zimbabwe’s land reform programme marked the increase in the number of small-scale tobacco growers in the country. This has resulted in a massive shift in the tobacco-growing base, previously dominated by a few commercial white farmers who produced the bulk of the crop. If those new smallholder farmers do not begin to plant trees with a reforestation scheme, tobacco curing will no longer be feasible without a supply of wood for the flue. If the soil then becomes depleted from overplanting of tobacco, without the sustainable supply of wood for curing, any type of crop will become difficult to grow. A reforestation program needs to be enforced and monitored. Meanwhile, smallholder farmers should be looking at additional and alternative crops to sustain their incomes.


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In the humid climate of Kinshasa lunch at a five star hotel might consist of chicken fromBelgiumand chips from potatoes flown in from the European Union. The butter on the supermarket shelf in South Africa might be fromNew Zealand, the UHT milk cartons in rural kiosks inSwazilandcame from Brazilian powdered milk. The bread is fresh from flour milled from wheat imported from Canada.

Then beef from subsidised European cattle arrives on commercial flights inAbidjan. To quench the African thirst, with wine, champagne and bottled water derived from recycled municipal wastewater in the cities of the EU via reverse osmosis, is a novelty amongst the African middle class containers constantly being offloaded on African shores.

Agriculture which represents about 30% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in Africa could supply the African food staple market which has a value of over $50 billion per year.

12 percent of the world’s arable land is in Sub Saharan Africa (SSA) and yet SSA accounts for barely one percent of global GDP and only two percent of world trade. Sub-Saharan Africa is the only developing region that has seen its share of world agricultural imports increase.Image

Pan African Agricultural Plantations (Pty) Ltd intends to lead the swing from subsistence agrarian practices, with their inherit poverty traps, donor dependency cycles that bring about perennial hunger, toward commercial systems, where farmers can make profits, invest in technology and mechanisation whilst acquiring knowledge and sustainable agronomic practices. 

Africa is stuck with contrast zones which on the one hand are endowed with good climatic conditions, soils, rainfall, geographically suitable for crop production with skilled farmers that become surplus food production areas for a particular commodity and deficit rural areas, normally the arid regions with low population densities which are usually the resource poor marginalised area that stagnate and are prone to food insecurity.

The balancing act, between these two zones can only be achieved by removing both man-made e.g. customs and payment procedures and natural barriers. These barriers that impede intra African trade especially in landlocked countries.

South Africa is SSA’s agricultural production powerhouse mainly due to its mechanised production infrastructure which includes irrigation, storage facilities, marketing and transport hub. Zambia has now become a net exporter of cereal. Ethiopia with 40 million cattle, 25.5 million sheep, 23.4 million goats and 2.3 million camels is home to Africa’s largest livestock resource largest in Africa and Botswana, one of southern Africa’s biggest exporters of beef to the EU, could become the meat suppliers to the continent.  Cassava from Nigeria, palm oil from Ghana, coffee fromEthiopia, cocoa from theIvory Coast, bananas from Mozambique and mangoes from theCongocould all form a breadbasket to help feed Africa without the need for aid.

Africa can produce enough rice to feed itself without importing a single grain. To achieve this however, well organised intra-African agricultural trade policies must take hold.

Let us take the example of rice.

Africa consumes a total of 11.6 million tonnes of milled rice per year (FAO), of which 3.3 million tonnes (33.6 percent) is imported.

21 of the 39 rice-producing countries in Africa import between 50 and 99 percent of their rice requirements.

  • Africa produces an average of 14.6 million tonnes of rough rice per year on 7.3 million ha, equivalent to 2.6 and 4.6 percent of the world’s total production and rice area, respectively.
  • West Africa has the greatest rice area inAfrica(56.5 percent), i.e. about 3.7 million ha
  • The average grain yield inAfrica(2.1 kg/ha) is 49 percent below the world average (3.4 kg/ha).
  • Upland ecology in Africa is 55 percent and Irrigated ecology represents only 11 percent of the rice area inAfrica, compared with 53 percent worldwide.

Nigeria is currently the largest rice importer in the world with an annual demand of an estimated 5 million tonnes, while domestic production is 3 million resulting in a deficit of 2 million tons.

  • West Africa, produced 9.87 million tonnes of rice and yet consumed 6.2 tonnes of milled rice
  • 300 000 tonnes produced inCentral Africawith 400 000 tonnes consumed
  • In Southern Africaonly 120 000 tonnes were produced

Rice production can be increased in the well-developed large floodplains of the wetlands in tropical sub-Saharan Africa which cover a total area of 2.4 million km(24 million ha) e.g. the Gambia, Niger, Benue, Zaire, Zambia, Limpopo, Tana, White and Blue Nile rivers.

Sixty-five percent of Africans in SSA live in rural areas while 75 percent of the SSA labor force works in agriculture. Sub-Saharan Africa’s share of the world’s agricultural exports is approximately 2 percent, and imports represent approximately 2 percent of world trade

The African Union, NEPAD, SADC, ECOWAS, EAS and MAGREB must create anAfricacommodity exchange that regulates the provision of essential commodities from deficit to surplus areas thus provide insurance against the vagaries of the weather, cushion against drought and provide food security in times of famine.


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The potential for agriculture to disentangle Africa from its cycle of poverty and turn it into the world’s breadbasket is evident. Conservative estimates position Africa’s current agricultural output to increase from $300 billion a year today to $500 billion by the year 2020 and would reach $ I trillion by 2050.

However, for these figures to be attained, the current system of aid that is failing African agriculture must cease. Africa’s own agrarian expertise—a combination of the science of agriculture, indigenous knowledge and the African farmers’ entrepreneurial spirit—must become the channel for agricultural productivity and growth.

The paradoxical world we now live in finds most people in Africa thin, without enough to eat, and those in the developed world with too much to eat and fighting obesity. In 1980, the world ate 133 million tonnes of meat and drank 342 million tonnes of milk. By 2002, consumption had increased to 239 million tonnes of meat and 487 million tonnes of milk. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that by 2030 global annual consumption of meat will stand at 373 million tonnes and 736 million tonnes of milk.

Africa has 60% of the world’s uncultivated arable land and more arable land than the continents with the highest populations. The continent is endowed with 733 million hectares of arable land, accounting for 27.4 per cent of the world total. Latin America is made up of 570 million hectares with Asia stands at 628 million hectares. In Sub-Saharan Africa if land was distributed equitably, each person would be allocated 0.3 hectares of arable land.

Africa’s current low crop yields per hectare makes agriculture the most prospective investment with a guaranteed return once sustainable farming methods and new technology are introduced.

Case in point: the current average yield of rainfed white maize in Sub-Saharan Africa is 1.1 tonnes per hectare. By merely adapting irrigation methods and yet maintaining the work ethic, a 500% increase in yield can be attained bringing this harvest figure to 5.5 tonnes of grain per hectare.

One factor that will have a profound effect in increasing productivity is agricultural research. Investment in the propagation of high yielding, drought tolerant, early and extra early maturing maize varieties is a fundamental imperative. At 60 days after planting these varieties are ready for harvest as green maize to be eaten boiled or roasted, creating an income stream for the farmer in mid-season. After 75 to 80 days the maize grain is dry and ready for harvest, current open-pollinated varieties (OPV’s) normally mature in about 120 days.

The OPV’s commonly available today for agrarian use in most African countries do not have the same yield potential as hybrid seeds with the addition of irrigation.

The timely availability of moisture at critical growth stages can be achieved with irrigation. Only 3.8 per cent of Africa’s surface and groundwater is harnessed, while irrigation covers only 7 per cent of cropland of which 3.6% is in Sub Saharan Africa. Evidently, there is extensive capacity for growth in African agriculture. About 2% of Africa’s irrigable land and only 10% of the land between the Zambezi and the Sahara is irrigated and yet Africa imported 35 million tonnes of wheat.

Using the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) index, the world’s oldest futures and options exchange, wheat for March 2012 delivery will average USD 242 per tonne, which means Africa will be forking out USD 8.47 billion for a commodity that can be grown with ease in its own backyard.

In most parts of Africa, agriculture is undercapitalised, security of tenure is not assured and labour productivity per hectare, due to its manual nature, is low compared to other continents.

Therefore, Africa’s strategic objective should be to develop each of the 733 million hectares of arable land by maximizing yield using sustainable land management and soil and water conservation measures. Feeding China should become Africa’s short term goal and the long-term template to be replicated for feeding the rest of the world.

As China’s wealth increases and 24 million people a year migrate to urban centres and abandon agriculture, its population becomes affluent with the impact on global grain prices more visible. China’s maize production is estimated at 190 million metric tonnes per annum, but it’s likely to experience an annual deficit of production of 11 million tonnes as demand increases by 2015. This year alone, China needs to import as much as 7 million tonnes of maize and 4 million tonnes of lower-quality wheat next year to feed its pigs, poultry and dairy herds.

China’s prosperity has created a carnivorous middle class which consumes 60 million tonnes of meat a year, consisting of about 240 million cows, 600 million pigs, and 24 billion chickens. A farmer requires 8 kilogrammes of feed to produce I kilogram of beef; about4 kilogrammes for chicken and 6 kilogrammes for pork. Applying grain needs to meat consumption, China would require 350.1 million metric tonnes of grain to supply livestock for its meat demands.

Africa must seize this opportunity and become the granary and protein provider for China. Using the CBOT maize futures for March 2012 delivery of USD 252 per tonne, Africa could realise USD88.2 billion per annum and can achieve this from utilising only about 8.8% of its arable land. In addition, Africa can then raise all the livestock needed by China’s insatiable appetite for pigs to chickens by becoming an exporter through value addition, of processed meats.

The 2011 World Investment Report has shown that the flows of foreign direct investment (FDI) to Africa fell by 9 per cent in 2010 to US$55 billion.

Investment in agriculture will make Africa the breadbasket for the world.

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Pan African Agricultural Plantations Limited (PAAP) has now secured land and irrigation water rights as it prepares to commence agricultural operations. In addition, PAAP has signed Memorandums of Understanding (MOU)s with strategic partners to form a robust value and supply chain for its produce.

PAAP is well on its way to being fully organic certified having acquired land that has been fallow for the past five years. PAAP’s agricultural, horticultural, and dairy productions are guided by the GLOBALGAP integrity programme and IFOAM organic standards.

In the New Year 2011, PAAP will commence its operations with the creation and operation of a one thousand milking cow dairy. This will be done in tandem to the construction of its first one hectare greenhouse and one hectare vegetable seedling nursery.

PAAP operations are hinged on a strong reliance on its OutGrowerNet programme. The OutGrowerNet is part of our leveraged farming practise, which successfully integrates small-scale farmers into the lucrative global value chain. To this end, our smallholder farming partners form an integral part of our production cycle.

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Russia’s worst drought on record has devastated crops in parts of the country and sent international grain prices soaring as markets have speculated on restricted supply from one of the world’s leading exporters. Russia exported more 17.5 million metric tons of wheat last year and is the fourth largest exporter of wheat behind the U.S., Europe and Canada.

The slump in Russian wheat production has pushed prices up 62 percent since early June, and last month saw the biggest and fastest increase since 1959.

The ripple effects of the Russian wheat deficit will be felt in years to come as global warming takes hold and countries retain their high strategic grain reserves in order to militate against future crop failures.

The result is that grain and cereal speculators will drive prices up and an artificial shortage that will disadvantage Africa is created. The only hope for Africa to achieve food self sufficiency lies in her ability to grow her own food.

Cereal shortages for Africa are imminent as most countries do not produce enough wheat for their own consumption. About 874 million hectares of Africa’s land is suitable for agricultural production and yet the continent uses less than 5% of irrigable land for food production. The irrigation potential of the continent is estimated at more than 42.5 million hectares, considering irrigation potential by basin and renewable water resources. Most of the regions in Africa are highly dependent on rain-fed conditions.

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I write my first blog as most farmers in Southern Africa are finalising land preparation for planting the 2009/2010 irrigated Winter Wheat crop and Barley.

For the past two years, Africa has delivered the highest rates of return on FDI among the world’s developing economies yet Africa’s share of global FDI remains only 3%.

At Pan African Agricultural Plantations Limited, the executive team is putting the final touches to our strategic plan which outlines the road map for our rollout programme. It is an exciting time for my colleagues and I as we conclude this phase which culminates in our relocation to Africa.


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