The history of the present day Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) and the golden leaf itself is in remote antiquity with precolonial times when farmers grew a local variety, “nyoka tobacco”. It is an undeniable fact that Zimbabwe is the cradle of quality tobacco.
Advanced farming as well as marketing methods have been refined to get to the current stage where Zimbabwe is a leading tobacco producing country in terms of quality and research.
The golden leaf is a variety of the genus Nicotiana, which is dried and processed mainly for smoking in pipes, cigarettes, cigars and can also be grounded to make snuff.
First successful flue-cured tobacco farming, which has now become one of the country’s leading foreign currency earners, was done in 1894 in Mutare.
Present varieties include but not limited to Virginia, Burley, Oriental and Dark-Air Cured.
Ironically, a Jesuit priest at Chishawasha Mission, Father Richartz, exhibited his first commercially grown tobacco at the first Agricultural Show held in Harare in 1897. In 1898, having realised the commercial potential of the local leaf, Mark Lingard of the Agricultural Department imported 15 different varieties.
With Zimbabwe boasting of the most compelling climatic conditions coupled with very good soils, the country provided to the world — then, a fine flavour of tobacco more specially from Mutare.
1903 then saw the construction, by E.H South, of a first barn on the banks of Lake Chivero close to his tobacco farm.
The first auction sale took place in Zimbabwe but was unsustainable because of “over production” and very few competing buyers. Co-operative selling was then introduced with farmers contracted to sell to the Tobacco Co-operative Society.
In 1924 the first tobacco research station was established in Hillside in Bulawayo to provide new and more varieties.
Early 1930s were characterised by marketing problems as yearly surpluses ended up being destroyed unnecessarily.
The need for a more orderly system pushed the promulgation, in 1936, of the Tobacco Marketing and Levy Act, which in turn preceded the coming in of the Tobacco Marketing Board (TMB) and the compulsory selling of tobacco through Auction Floors.
1947 provided upsetting monopolies as the “London Agreement” emphasised preferential opportunities for British manufacturers but free auction system re-emerged in 1962. From then onwards, Zimbabwe’s global reputation for producing well-graded flue-cured (Virginia) tobacco gained traction.
The Tobacco Marketing and Levy Act was amended in 1997, effecting the renaming of the Tobacco Marketing Board to Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB). The “Industry” concept borrowed from the 1994 reconstitution to cater for farmers, buyers and other stakeholders.
With the inception in 2004 of contract growing and marketing of the golden leaf, auctioning improved significantly.
The industry accounts for a large chunk of the agricultural sector’s workforce with about 50 percent of commercial agriculture employees.
The golden leaf is cultivated on small percentage of the country’s arable land thereby providing for the cultivation of many other crops.
2018 TIMB statistics indicated that production had increased to 253 million kilogrammes to set a new record for Zimbabwe. Tobacco export earnings alone raked US$892 million in 2018.