Before European settlers came into Zimbabwe it is known that indigenous people grew tobacco (a type called Nyoka tobacco). The first claim to successful growing flue-cured tobacco was made in 1894 in Mutare. A Jesuit priest at Chishawasha Mission, Father Richartz, exhibited his first commercially grown tobacco at the first Agricultural Show held in Harare in 1897.

Tobacco growing, in the Nicotiana rustica strain, grows in Zimbabwe naturally and people have gathered it, dried it and smoked it for centuries. The Jesuit fathers at Chishawasha Mission and a handful of settlers started to cultivate it: Mark Lingard of the Agricultural Department imported 15 different varieties from America in 1898.

Zimbabwe, thanks to its soils and climate, grows some of the world's finest flavour tobacco from Tengwe in the north-west to Mutare in the north east. Farming and marketing methods have been refined to a point where Zimbabwe is a leader in world tobacco production in terms of quality and research.

In 1903 E.H. South planted tobacco from seed he had brought in from the States on his farm on the banks of Lake Chivero and built the first barn to cure it.

In 1910, the first auction sales took place in Zimbabwe but were later abandoned in 1914 due to lack of competition between buyers and over-production. From then on, the crop was sold through various methods including (in the main) sales by private treaty and co-operative selling, where growers were contracted to sell their crops to the Tobacco Co-operative Society.

Archie Henderson, grower and managing director of Tobacco Auctions Ltd, was the first person to use steam in flue-curing tobacco. He left his farm to the nation and Henderson Research Station remains an important resource to Zimbabwe farmers. In 1919 United Tobacco (now BAT) established Romsley estate staffed by American-trained men who provided free expert advice and development finance.

In 1924 the first tobacco research station was established in Hillside, Bulawayo (much of the air-cured crop was grown in Matabeleland). As the Tobacco Research Board or Kutsaga, named after the farm where it now operates, it has been a world leader in tobacco research . Kutsaga continues this work and is offering promising new tobacco varieties for trial in the coming season.

Many marketing problems were experienced especially during the depression of the 1930's and in 1934 there was such a surplus that 20% of each grower's crop was removed from the open market and later disposed of privately and some destroyed. By 1935, it became apparent to growers as well as buyers that a more orderly system of sale was desirable. Therefore, legislation was introduced under pressure from a growers' organization.

In 1936, the Tobacco Marketing and Levy Act was promulgated. This Act provided for the formation of the Tobacco Marketing Board (now the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board) and the compulsory selling of tobacco through Auction Floors.
In 1947, international economic forces upset the market place and resultant negotiations resulted in the "London Agreement" which offered preferential buying opportunities for United Kingdom manufacturers, thus compromising the concept of free and unfettered auctions. The agreement was revised in 1953 and remained in force until 1961. The free and unfettered auction system was re-introduced in 1962.

Zimbabwe's global reputation for producing healthy, well graded flue-cured tobacco with minimal chemical residues has been repeatedly reinforced. 1963 was a highlight: the industry hosted a gathering of some of the world's top scientific minds for the CORESTA Third World Tobacco Scientific Congress, (a feat it repeated in 1998) followed by a meeting of 200 delegates from 30 countries for the first International Tobacco Trade Congress.

The system was again interrupted by the unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) in November 1965.
At Independence in 1980, the tobacco industry once again saw a return to the free and unfettered auction selling system for flue-cured (Virginia) tobacco. In 2004 the growing and marketing system was changed with the introduction of contract growing and marketing of tobacco, to operate alongside auction tobacco marketing.

At peak production the industry employed about 50% of all people employed in commercial agriculture. This estimate did not include other activities and downstream industries that exist to service the tobacco industry. It was also the country's single largest foreign currency earner and accounted for about a third of total country's exports and contributed about 12% to the national gross domestic product.

Zimbabwe's climate is favourable to the growing of tobacco. The crop does well on sandy loam soils where most grain crops would require a lot of fertilizers. Thus, it does not compete with food cropping. Its production uses only 3% of Zimbabwe's arable land. Other crops that produce greater bulk of lower unit value have less competitive advantage because Zimbabwe is landlocked and freight to major markets is more expensive.

Zimbabwe tobacco exports once accounted for 20% of the world's flue-cured tobacco, the main ingredient in cigarettes. Tobacco has also been a springboard for the production of other crops. Tobacco provides the best economic return per hectare amongst all the major annual crops grown in Zimbabwe. Income from tobacco is used by growers to develop their farms, cattle production, irrigation schemes etc.

Following the country's independence in 1980 there was an initial drop in production and number of production units. Trend was reversed quickly such that by the late 1980's annual production was over 120 million kg, the hectarage was over 57 000 and the number of growers had stabilized at around 1 500 large-scale commercial growers.

During the 1990's a slow land resettlement programme saw the number of indigenous growers rising to around 6 500, and with about 1 700 large-scale commercial growers by 2000. The area planted to tobacco peaked in 1998 at about 92 000 ha and annual sales reached a record of 237 million kg in 2000.

The period was largely dominated by the land reform programme. Large-scale farms were sub-divided and land allocated to indigenous farmers. This rapidly increased the number of growers thereby increasing the potential tobacco production base After three successive drought seasons followed by one characterized by excessive rain during its latter half, annual production started to increase, spurred on by de-regulations.

Period characterized by rapid recovery of production and increase in grower base
58.5 million kg at US$174.5 million in 2009
123.5 million kg at US$355.7 million in 2010
132.5 million kg at US$361.5 million in 2011
144.5 million kg at US$540 million in 2012                    
166.7 million kg at US$610 million in 2013

Estimated +100 000 growing units for 2014 Est
80% are small-scale (up to two hectares)
Growing 120, 000 hectares
Production of 180 million kg
Valued at US$670 million
Industry worth over US$1.5 billion
Estimated 1. 2 million directly dependent
Estimated 4.8 million if dependants are included


  • Auction floors (3)
  • Merchants (18)
  • Processors (3)
  • Cigarette manufacturers (6)
  • Research and development (1)
  • Primary agro-input suppliers (30)
  • Education, training and extension (6)

Tobacco merchants on their own, employ over 6 000 while the cigarette manufacturers employ around 2 500. The capital investment in the tobacco industry alone runs into billions of dollars covering infrastructure equipment, machinery for processing, storage facilities etc.
Estimated 10 000 employed at peak periods.


  • No alternative crop            
  • Reversal of land reform and economic empowerment gains
  • Loss of household income
  • Loss of 30% foreign currency
  • Loss of employment
  • De-industrialization
  • Negative impact on other farming ventures economic activities

The Zimbabwean tobacco industry will continue to reject all draconian measures that the WHO FCTC intends to impose of the industry. We urge the WHO FCTC to enter into dialogue with the industry whose future they intend on  destroying.




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