Black tobacco farmers in South Africa have rallied together and recently formed the Black Tobacco Farmers’ Association (BTFA). The affiliation strives to prioritise and protect the interests of black tobacco farmers in the country. It currently has 155 members, all smallholder tobacco farmers with ambitions of developing into large commercial operations.
According to Ntando Shadrack Sibisi, founding member and BTFA chairperson, when the tobacco farmers entered the industry as newcomers, they started to see the benefits of being involved in tobacco farming. This changed when government implemented stringent regulations that impose on tobacco products.
Forming a representative body seemed imperative to ensure that government doesn’t only look at the corporate tobacco industry. “They must look at the correct picture, from the grassroots. Previously we didn’t do anything, we were out of work, living in the rural areas and now that we earn a dignified wage, government wants to come and stop that,” says Sibisi.
The immediate and critical threat to tobacco farmers in SA is the illegal cigarette trade. BTFA is therefore pushing for the need to crack down on the illegal cigarette trade in the country. The association has called on the South African Revenue Service (SARS) to intervene. “There is only one way to address this challenge, SARS must do what it’s supposed to do. No one must sell cigarettes who is not paying tax.” says Sibisi
BTFA stresses that the future of farming relies on a symbiotic relationship between farmers, government and all industry stakeholders. The association has called on its members, partners, corporates and stakeholders to support them in the endeavour of farming sustainably and ensuring the long-term growth and development of the tobacco industry.
Sibisi says Finance Minister Tito Mboweni’s firm warning during his budget speech to fight against the trade of illicit cigarettes and tobacco is positive. He also believes that SARS’s Illicit Economy Unit launched in August last year is a step in the right direction.