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Hurungwe District in Mashonaland West, which is regarded as the breadbasket of the province and is one of the country’s biggest tobacco producing areas, is crying out for development.And in particular, the producer of the golden leaf expects to see the lustre of tobacco so that the livelihoods of people can be uplifted just like other areas of the country that are now benefiting from natural endowments.

Tobacco firms operating in Hurungwe have so far been unwilling to venture into developmental projects in the area.

During a meeting to assess Hurungwe district’s state of preparedness for implementing the Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (ZimAsset) recently, Mashonaland West Minister of State for Provincial Affairs, Cde Faber Chidarikire, said the Hurungwe Rural District expressed concern over the reluctance by some tobacco firms to assist the community by fulfilling their corporate social obligations.

“Right now we are just like cooks preparing food for visitors who in turn do not allow us to taste our recipes, no matter how hungry we are. In Manicaland they have diamonds benefitting the communities through community ownership trusts. There is Mhondoro-Ngezi-Chegutu-Zvimba where Zimplats is benefiting communities through share ownership trusts. Schools are being built, roads maintained and boreholes drilled. Here (in Hurungwe) tobacco is our ngoda (diamond) from which we must also derive the same benefits. Our roads are dilapidated and our clinics under-resourced,” fumed Cllr Clever Zinyemba during the meeting.

Another councillor Mr Mubairo Gwanzura (ward 4) said it was high time the district focused on value addition in the area of tobacco so that the community could realise meaningful benefit from its sweat.

“We must have a cigarette manufacturing plant in the district so that people here realise the full benefits of their sweat. Our tobacco is going to Harare and overseas where these people get more money after turning it into cigarettes. By embarking on vertical integration here we will create employment for our youths and bring more business into the area. We also need these firms to partner with government and build us an agricultural college to horn our farming skills so that we do away with the current situation where farmers are meeting heavy losses due to lack of the necessary skills,” he said.

Hurungwe District Administrator, Ms Tsana Chirau also condemned the failure by the companies to plough back into the community saying it was their social obligation to address some challenges that affected communities in which they conducted business.

“Our roads are in a deplorable state. They have never assisted. Despite exposing these farmers’ health to danger through toxic chemicals, they are not assisting any clinic in the area with restocking drugs and equipment.

“They come and make big business, pocket the proceeds and leave without paying any attention to some of the problems bedevilling the farmers they transact business with. There is a lot of deforestation going on in the area with dangerous pesticides also wreaking havoc in our ecosystems.

“We urge these companies to do something as a way of paying back to the community. They must get the example from how cotton companies that operated in Gokwe over the years rehabilitated and constructed roads for the Gokwe community.

“According to TIMB, Hurungwe has more than 22 000 registered tobacco farmers, a figure far larger than that for Manicaland Province as a whole. This is ample confirmation that tobacco companies must assist the district in a huge way as we are bigger players in the tobacco industry.

“I will soon convene a meeting with the companies where this issue will be raised,” she said.

Meanwhile, pursuant to concerns that the tobacco companies are not honouring council by-laws including failure to meet their corporate social responsibilities, HRDC has passed a resolution that requires all tobacco companies operating in the area to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with effect from the next tobacco cropping season. The MoU will regulate the operations of the companies with those violating it being kicked out of operation instantly.

Source : The Herald

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