ROLL IN TIME

Zambia 2014 | AGRICULTURE | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Samson Muyembe, Board Secretary & CEO of the Tobacco Board of Zambia, on the potential for future growth in the local tobacco industry.

Samson Muyembe
BIOGRAPHY
Samson Muyembe graduated in Agronomy at Kuban Agricultural University in Russia in 1983. He obtained a Master’s degree in 1984 and came back to Zambia, where he worked at the Ministry of Agriculture as a tobacco agronomist. Then he joined the Tobacco Board in 1986 and became the CEO in 2012.

What role does the Tobacco Board play in Zambia's agricultural sector?

The Tobacco Board of Zambia (TBZ) is a statutory organ of the government. It is the organization that protects and promotes the tobacco industry on behalf of the government. It oversees the whole tobacco supply, including production, marketing, processing, and manufacturing. TBZ is involved in the regulation of the industry and there are many players growing the crop. We have tobacco merchants, who sponsor the production of tobacco by the small-scale and commercial farmers.

What types of tobacco are currently grown in Zambia?

Zambia produces three main types of tobacco, namely Virginia Flue Cured, Burley, and Dark Fire Cured tobacco. The main one is Virginia flue-cured, which makes up about 70% of production, about 29% is Burley, and about 1% is Dark Cured Tobacco. Zambia has very good climatic condition and suitable soils for tobacco.

What growth has the production of Zambian tobacco experienced in the recent years and what are your main markets?

We are seeing a strong growth in production. For example, 10 years ago, Zambia produced about 30 million kilograms of all types of tobacco annually. In 2013 Zambia produced about 41 million kilograms. That volume continues to rise, and in 2014 we are expecting to produce about 45 million kilograms; 99% of Zambian produced tobacco is exported. Our main markets are in Asia, with the largest buyer being China, followed by Europe, with Russia and Belgium leading the list. Zambian tobacco is well known for its high flavor and aroma. With adequate investment, Zambia has the potential to produce over 200,000 tons annually.

How do you export the tobacco from Zambia, and how will new transport infrastructure benefit the industry?

In Zambia we only have one processing plant, which cannot process all the tobacco, and therefore most of the tobacco is exported in leaf form, mostly by rail or road. If you look at the infrastructure in Zambia at this point, we have the rail line from Chipata to the sea port of Beira in Mozambique. This rail link is operational and it will help us to increase our exports. The new road infrastructure going on in the country will also help to improve the efficiency of transporting tobacco. Apart from the Southern, Central, and Western provinces, we have opened new areas in the northern part of the country in Northern, Luapula, and Muchinga Provinces, and these areas are linked by an all-weather road network that is currently under construction.

Where are the main regions where tobacco is cultivated in Zambia?

The main regions are the Eastern Province, suitable for Burley, and then we have Central and Southern suitable for Virginia flue Cured, as well as Western Province. Nevertheless, these tobacco-growing areas make up a very small percentage of the total arable land in Zambia. The potential to produce large volumes of tobacco in Zambia is enormous.

What is the difference in the quality of tobacco produced in Zambia compared to other African producers?

Zambian tobacco is high in quality. It is one of the best not only in Africa, but also the world; especially the Virginia tobacco, which is well known for its aroma and flavor.