WINDHOEK – Investors planning a massive N$14 billion tobacco plantation in the Zambezi Region this week made a presentation to Cabinet, in a bid to secure approval for the project to kick off.
The project, spearheaded by the Chinese, continued to divide opinions but received a major boost after the Zambezi Communal Land Board recommended to government that the project should get green light. This is a major breakthrough for Namibia Oriental Tobacco CC, a company co-owned by Swapo regional coordinator for Oshikoto Armas Amukwiyu, whose initial application was rejected in May 2015 by the same land board.
The company already received 10 000 hectares of land at Liselo, an irrigation area on the outskirts of Katima Mulilo.
But during a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, where Land Reform Minister Utoni Nujoma is said to have brought the investors for a presentation on the project, Minister of Health Dr Bernard Haufiku allegedly opposed the idea.
Those who were in attendance said Haufiku was so livid at the idea, that he threatened to leave the meeting in protest.
He is said to have suggested that the land should rather be used to cultivate food, instead of tobacco, which he deems hazardous to the nation.
Namibia Oriental Tobacco CC has always insisted that the tobacco harvested at Liselo would be wholly exported, with no produce earmarked for the local market.
Namibia has one of the strictest tobacco laws. Its Tobacco Products Control Act regulates, among others, smoke free places, tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, and tobacco packaging and labeling.
Zambezi Regional Governor Lawrence Sampofu yesterday said the regional communal land board in April recommended that a certificate be granted for Namibia Oriental Tobacco CC’s land to be used for tobacco and maize production.
This was done following a meeting with the community, for objectors to state their views, explained Sampofu.
“The minister (of Land Reform) has to pronounce himself on whether to approve or not to approve,” said Sampofu yesterday.
Speaking to New Era upon inquiry yesterday, health minister Haufiku, a known critic of the project, said his position on the matter has not changed.
Haufiku confirmed that he was at Cabinet on Tuesday but would not reveal what went on and whether he threatened to leave the meeting halfway in protest. He said he would not comment on “leaked” information about Cabinet proceedings.
“My position has not changed,” he said when asked on the tobacco plantation project.
Despite the absence of a law banning growing tobacco in Namibia, Haufiku said in June 2015 that this should not stop the fight against the mega project, comparing it 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 the Zambezi Region. With or without laws, this practice must be resisted by all of us who are health conscious,” said Haufiku at the time.