Zambezi land board denies giving green light to tobacco

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Aron Mushaukwa

KATIMA MULILO – The Zambezi Communal Land Board strongly denied giving green light to the N$14 billion Chinese spearheaded tobacco plantation in Zambezi Region. Regional communal land board member and Deputy Director of Land Reform in Zambezi, Charles Musiyalike, rejected the claim by Zambezi Regional Governor Lawrence Sampofu last week that 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. “The minister (of Land Reform) has to pronounce himself on whether to approve or not to approve,” Sampofu told New Era last week.

Musiyalike now tells New Era that the regional communal land board still stands at its initial decision of 2015, when it rejected the project for environmental and health reasons.

“Tobacco production leads to ecosystem disruption and extinction of species, over exploitation of land and climate change,” reads the land board recommendations made to the minister. The land board also argues that they never received any Environmental Impact Assessment report on the project.

The proposed tobacco investment last week divided Cabinet ministers, where the investors behind the project made a presentation. New Era reported last week that at the Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting Land Reform Minister Utoni Nujoma was said to have brought the investors for a presentation on the project, and 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.

In their recommendations, the land board also highlighted that “the use of pesticides and fertilisers runoff into watershed and leaching of these chemicals through the soil can contaminate sources of drinking water… Tobacco employees are also subjected to green tobacco sickness which is a type of poisoning that occurs from handling uncured tobacco”.

The regional land board further argued that “according to a 2009 study in Kenya on tobacco farming households and non-tobacco farming households, it emerged that tobacco farming does not provide as adequate an income as other crop might”.

The land board recommended that the investors should just stick to maize production, and that they should just be given 3000 hectors instead of the 10,000 they requested. The board further recommended that the lease agreement should be for a period of 25 years instead of the proposed 99 years.

Musiyalike told New Era that the recommendations were made after it received several objection applications from among others, the Health Ministry, the Namibia Consumer Trust, the Affirmative Repositioning and some community members. The tobacco investment is an initiative of the Namibia Oriental Tobacco CC, a company co-owned by Swapo regional coordinator for Oshikoto Armas Amukwiyu, and Chinese investors. The company is said to have already received 10,000 hectares of land at Liselo, an irrigation area on the outskirts of Katima Mulilo.

Tobacco production has proven successful in other countries, in Africa, Zimbabwe is the largest grower of tobacco, and in recent years, most of its tobacco has been exported to China. In 2015, Zimbabwe reportedly exported 54 percent of its tobacco to that country.

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