At least 3,000 jobs can be created in tobacco alone if government succeeds in combating crime. This emerged at the Limpopo Tobacco Processors (LTP) Farmers’ Day celebration in Jappes Reef in Nkomazi, Mpumalanga on Thursday.

The event was organised by the LTP and British American Tobacco South Africa (BATSA) which procures over 85% of all the tobacco leaf grown in the country.

South Africa is one of 100 countries producing tobacco worldwide.

Ntando Sibisi, a 52-year-old farmer, expressed his frustration over government’s failure to combat the illicit cigarette trade.

Sibisi from Buffelspruit, outside Jeppes Reef in Nkomazi. is one of the emerging farmers who have created job opportunities for residents around his village through growing tobacco since 2010.

He says government should come up with strategies that will assist in curbing the illegal tobacco trade as it seriously hampers the tobacco industry.

“In my case, I have planted five hectares of tobacco from planting. I employ 10 people. Then when we start harvesting I add another 10, which means 20 people for five hectares. It’s not only about tobacco, but it’s also what we call food security in the form of maize. Last year, I planted a hectare of which I produced seven tonnes and looking at the rains that we have this season. I am expecting the same or more,” he said.

Sibisi and other farmers say their lives have changed since they decided to grow tobacco. They claim that the business has helped them to put food on the table and also pay for their children’s education.

Some of them say they have now decided to focus more on growing tobacco than vegetables. However, the farmers and their employees might find themselves without jobs in the next few years.

The Limpopo Tobacco Processors says tobacco production declined by 2 million tonnes between 2012 and 2016, mainly due to the illegal trade.

“Because of the expansion of the illicit trade that we have started to lose business from Batsa because Batsa then sell less cigarettes and they by less tobacco from us. So, we obviously want the government to get involved and fight the illicit trade hands on to make sure that government assist us to fight ever growing illicit trade where companies in South Africa make cigarettes without paying taxis,” said LTP’s Managing Director is Christo van Staden.

Currently, the tobacco sector has created more than 8,000 jobs, mostly in rural areas.