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Tian Ze rapped for ‘blood-sucking’ tobacco farming contract scheme as media tour turns nasty

By Alois Vinga

A bid to spruce up the image of Chinese investments in Zimbabwe turned nasty on Friday after a local tobacco farmer laid bare the ‘exploitative’ conditions set by Tian Ze Tobacco Company under the contract farming scheme.

The  developments  took place during a media tour organised by Tian Ze to showcase the company’s impact projects in the country and was graced by the Embassy of China in Zimbabwe, first secretary Liang Zhijun who officially opened the day by challenging  the media to get a first-hand account.

“I would like to express my first point on the smear campaign against Chinese companies by some certain countries. A few people understand the contributions made by Chinese companies .

“The publicity around our companies is just like propaganda .Those making the smear campaigns just think that they are the “truth”.

“Actually, this smear campaign according to my experience is groundless and I believe that all of you present today will see for themselves,” he said.

The top diplomat revealed that in the past three years, China invested about US$2,3 billion in Zimbabwe, a figure he said constitutes  three quarters of all the Foreign Direct Investment received in the past three years.

Zhijun also revealed that Chinese investments have done so well to improve the development of the country in agriculture, mining, infrastructure, and manufacturing.

“Today you have come to Tian Ze Company. Use your eyes to see what’s happening  and to hear from the local people what the truth is. The facts will speak louder than any words .

“China is an all-weather friend unlike certain countries, especially the former colonists,” he said.

Shortly after the remarks, journalists in the media tour proceeded to Gwanzura Farm in Beatrice where a fed up farmer, Foster Gwanzura laid bare the extent to which conditions have deteriorated under the company’s scheme.

“I was number four in joining Tian Ze in 2006 when they came into Zimbabwe. They were very good. They started very well .I remember that I got a tractor from Bain and a D4D Single Cab  and a new generator 80 kv 1 which I still have .

“They were really supporting farmers in earnest and the prices by then were very good with no interest being charged.

“However, over the years, I don’t know whether they are getting anything from other merchants. Tian Ze has started going down in terms of prices.

“You see, farming is business, real business and if I borrow US$500 000 from Tian Ze, I should be able to make a profit. What is happening now with the prices that have gone down is that I will have to struggle to pay what I owe Tian Ze,” he said.

Gwanzura said if at all he manages to pay, he will be left with nothing or remain indebted to Tian Ze, a development which often sees him being dragged to the courts.

“I was talking to the Tian Ze Managing Director this morning after meeting him again last week as a group of farmers and pleaded with him to go back to previous prices but to no avail. The guys won’t just listen

“As you can see, there is business being done here .I have 165 workers and I do about 80 hectares of tobacco and all this requires cash for smooth running of the project. If the trend continues I will have to quit dealing with this company and instead approach local banks,” he said.

The Beatrice farmer said after delivering around 21 tonnes of good quality tobacco, the total amount paid was around US$16 000 lesser than what he was normally paid.

However, after leaving Gwanzura farm, Tian Ze Tobacco Company, Public Affairs Manager and P.A to the Managing Director, Wenjie Li downplayed the concerns raised, instead claiming the farmer was merely staging a smear campaign following the company’s denial to offer higher prices.

“You see, he (Gwanzura) came to our offices and asked for a higher price after learning that we were bringing journalists to his farm and we turned him down. So that’s why he is trying to speak ill of what we are doing,” he said.

Contacted for comment and asked to share his side of the story after Li’s claims, Gwanzura expressed shock and insisted his concerns had nothing to do with the media tour.

“These negotiations have been going on for the last one month and Tian Ze management is fully aware of this. These are serious concerns from a practical business viewpoint,” he said.



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