Tobacco Board of Zambia (TBZ) executive Director James Kasongo says the industry will employ more than a million Zambians by 2020, owing to the investments currently taking place in the sector.

And Kasongo says TBZ will comply with the Framework Convention of Tobacco Control (FCTC) once domesticated but that there was need for government departments to be positive on the matter to avoid scaring away potential investors.

In an interview, Kasongo told news Diggers that the tobacco industry was more profitable and that Zambia had an option of diversifying its economy using the cash crop.

“So, we need to actualise the diversification agenda through tobacco farming. It’s known to government what tobacco can bring but the diversification agenda has been slow. That is why we want to educate more members of the public so that we can have more people cultivating tobacco. By doing so we can have more buyers and if we have more buyers then the industry can grow. This industry will employee more than a million people by 2020. So far, we have so many projects in the Lusaka multi-Facility Economic Zone. There are tobacco industries being developed that will employ a lot of people. We have about 500, 000 people employed in the tobacco industry and in two years’ time that number can double owing to the activities being undertaken currently. That is why we are taking about issues of domesticating the FCTC in Zambia, we need to have a common position. And that’s why we don’t need to be negative about what the Ministry of Health is doing or what any other ministry is doing,” Kasongo said.

“We just have to sit on a table and find a way forward. We have huge investors who want to come to Zambia and we as a country can do ourselves a favour by being positive about the messages we deliver to the farmers. We need to encourage them to grow more tobacco so that as a country we ca diversify from dependence on copper. And like I said we can employ a lot of people in the country if we do so. The 500, 000 people employed in tobacco, this figure, I have not added the people who are in manufacturing, the people who are dealing in tobacco, all those I haven’t added. If I were to add, you will be shocked. That is why we are saying in the next one or two years more than a million people will be employed. That is a lot of people and that is why we need to be careful about this industry. It can empower Zambians and at the same time, we can cause more Zambians to be jobless. Remember that 95% of the tobacco grown here is exported. So, it’s not consumed by Zambians.”

And Kasongo said TBZ would comply with the Framework Convention of Tobacco Control (FCTC) once domesticated but that there was need for government departments to be positive on the matter to avoid scaring away potential investors.

“So, we are expecting by the end of this year to get more that 28 milion kilograms of tobacco. And the average price this year has been at $3 per kilogram. This is what Zambia should take advantage of because there is no cash crop that will have such prices. So just look at that, which crop can sell at K30 per kilo? That’s an average price that we have in our records. It’s a profitable crop. That is why when you ask a lot of tobacco farmers, especially in Eastern province, they will be able to tell that we have made about K100, 000 this year. This is because it’s a very profitable crop. Its so profitable compared to someone making K10, 000 from maize. And when we are saying tobacco is seven times more profitable than maize, we are being generous, its more than that but we just trying to be more generous. What I am trying to say as chief executive is that we have no problem with the public health issues, we can adhere to the regulations being provided by the government and World Health Organization, as long as they do not affect productionm,” said Kasongo.

“We believe that as a country if we come together and have a common position, we can as well behave in that way. It’s done in Malawi and Zimbabwe where all concerned stakeholders come together and agree on the national position and disseminate all sorts of information to the public and Zambian citizens in a way that is not portraying FCTC to be an animal; like it has come to destroy everything. We want to have a common position which when I stand up as chief executive and I talk about the FCTC, it’s exactly what someone from the Ministry of Health would say, is exactly what someone from the Ministry of Finance, commerce and exactly what any other stakeholder within the tobacco industry would say.”