JOURNALISTS yesterday visited Tian Ze Tobacco, a subsidiary of China National Tobacco Company, as part of efforts by the Chinese embassy and enterprises to be more accessible following many reports of alleged labour rights violations and other malpractices which the Chinese insist are largely exaggerated and part of a smear campaign.
Chinese embassy director of political affairs Liang Zhijun told journalists that Chinese companies had invested US$2.3 billion in the last three years, accounting for three quarters of Zimbabwe’s foreign direct investment.
He said Chinese investment had created jobs for local people while boosting several sectors of the economy such as mining, manufacturing and agriculture.
Liang however expressed concern over negative reports on Chinese investment, arguing that the majority were “groundless and fake news”.
He called for the media to ensure their reports are balanced by seeking comments from Chinese companies, even pledging to assist journalists in contacting company officials when they fail to reach them for comments.
Liang said the embassy was not against negative reports but want journalists to be objective, fair and truthful in their reporting.
Tian Ze public affairs manager Wenjie Li said his company had changed the tobacco landscape since its entry on the market in 2005. The company is involved in tobacco contract growing, auction floor purchasing, processing, warehousing and exporting of tobacco to China. It also sources tobacco from other tobacco merchants in Zimbabwe.
“Before Tian Ze came into Zimbabwe, a few players dominated the market and the highest price was US$2.99 per kg. However, the coming in of Tian ZE increased competition and offered competitive prices, thus increasing the benefit to farmers.
Consequently, Zimbabwe tobacco crop increased from 48.8 million kilogrammes in 2008 to an average of 200 million kgs in recent years,” he said.
More than 50% of Zimbabwean tobacco is exported to China annually.
China Tobacco purchases about 65 million kilogrammes of packed tobacco from Zimbabwe, but is looking to extend to 70 million kgs from this year.
Tian Ze supplies 18 million kgs of the tobacco, accounting for 25% of China Tobacco’s total purchase.
Liang said Tian Ze provides US$80 million to support contract farmers and this has resulted in increased production and better livelihoods.
Journalists also toured Gwanzura Farm in Beatrice, owned by Foster Tendai Gwanzura, who is contracted by Tian Ze.
Gwanzura said he has over the years managed to expand his operations and production, acquire equipment and invest on the farm thanks to support from Tian Ze.
He however said of late the company was not paying well, resulting in farmers struggling to pay off their loans or leaving them indebted.
Liang however said although prices were determined by the global market, his company was paying the highest prices on the market as seen by an analysis of Tobacco Industry Marketing Board statistics. He said his company was also supporting farmers by providing interest free loans and inputs.
Journalists also visited Hutsva Children’s Home in Highfield and Donolly Primary School in Beatrice which Tian Ze is supporting as part of its corporate social responsibility.