Health minister Dr. Bernhard Haufiku on Monday slammed the planned mass tobacco plantation in the Zambezi Region, in the process calling on all health conscious Namibians to join the fight against it.
Despite the absence of a law banning growing tobacco in Namibia, Haufiku said that should not stop the fight against the mega project, comparing it[plantation] to the concept of “dumping chemical weapons in the country”.
“The issue of growing tobacco in this country has been overlooked and it has since created fertile grounds for those looking to grow tobacco in this region. With or without laws, this practice must be resisted by all of us who are health conscious,” said Haufiku on Monday in Katima Mulilo during the commemoration of the World No Tobacco Day.
Namibia on the day received a gold medal from the World Health Organisation for its efforts to prevent the illicit trafficking of tobacco products.
Government’s decision last year to gazette the Tobacco Products Control Act No 1 of 2010 which bans people from smoking tobacco in public places, is seen as one of the primary reasons why WHO bestowed the accorded Namibia with prestigious the award.
Haufiku further criticized plans for a tobacco plantation in the Zambezi Region, comparing it to dropping chemical weapons on the country.
The health ministry’s opposition towards the project comes less than two months after The Namibian reported that the N$14 billion tobacco and maize project mooted for the Zambezi region has received environmental clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, raising eye-brows regarding the level of coordination between line ministries.
Haufiku also highlighted the fact that the illegal trade in tobacco products dents the economy because government losses income through tax revenue.
The tobacco plantation project is being fronted by Swapo Party big shot Armas Amukwiyu and his Chinese partners through their company Namibia Oriental Tobacco cc. The company applied for 10 000 hectares in the Zambezi Region to grow tobacco and maize already.
The plantation will be erected in the Liselo communal area which falls under the Mafwe Traditional Authority.
Amukwiyu is a close associate of President Dr. Hage Geingob, a relationship which could further boost his chances to get the land.
Reacting to the minister’s comments yesterday, Amukwiyu said: “Our Constitution allows everybody to express their opinions and the minister is no different.”
“He is part of government, the establishment of this project is done through government structures of which he is part of. I understand he is a new member in the executive but there are those government structures that feel the idea sold to by us is a good one while some are against it, but at the end of the day I am not fighting anybody,” he said.
If they[government] feel this is chemical dumping let them come out clean, challenged Amukwiyu.
“Our team of experts are working on a concept paper which we will present to o government to explain that this is a bankable project,” he said.
Meanwhile, in April Chinese Ambassador to Namibia Xin Shunkang said tobacco produced from the mooted tobacco plantation in Zambezi Region is not meant for local consumption but rather for the lucrative market in China.
Shunkang told New Era at the time that the project would provide a platform for Namibians to derive skills from Chinese tobacco farmers.
“The plantation will also be used to plant maize, hence the request for a large area. The tobacco will not be used or sold in Namibia, after it is processed. It will be moved to the Chinese market,” elaborated Ambassador Shunkang in April.
“If Namibia can do it quicker, the project will commence because the investors are ready and the money is ready,” he said.
Shunkang said Chinese tobacco plantations in Zimbabwe have seen that country earning millions of dollars through exports of the much-sought tobacco leaf.
“The tobacco projects in Zimbabwe are a great example because the farmers that side have earned good money,” said the Chinese Ambassador in answer to detractors of the project, who claim more people would start to smoke if the project starts operation.
Shunkang urged Chinese tobacco producers to teach Namibian farmers to plant tobacco when the project eventually starts.
Many cited health reasons, while others suggested the land meant for the tobacco farm should be used for crop production, as they argue this will boost food security, while villagers in the area expressed concern over the tobacco project saying the plantation will curtail the grazing land for their livestock.