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TOBACCO worth millions went up in smoke on Thursday after a freak fire engulfed a Mashonaland Tobacco Company (MTC) warehouse in Harare’s Willovale industrial area.
MTC, which employs over 1,000 workers, is owned by American leaf merchant, Alliance One International.
As usual the fire-brigade arrived but without water according to workers who talked to NewZimbabwe.com.
“Two fire engines came but the firefighters spent almost an hour searching for highdrants in the area while the fire raged. Some departments, particularly administration, were asked to take the day off.
“We do not know how the fire started though,” said a worker.
MTC finance executive Walter Ntini confirmed the incident but could not immediately be drawn into providing details about the loses.
“We are not sure how the fire started yet. We are waiting for the experts to put out the fire first before we can quantify the amount of tobacco destroyed. It is a warehouse that holds baled tobacco bought directly from farmers,” said Ntini.
Officials however told The Source news agency that the warehouse had four million kilogrammes of high grade tobacco with a value of between $12 million to $15 million. The tobacco was earmarked for export to China.
Unconfirmed reports claimed the fire could have been started by workers disgruntled by non-payment of salaries in the past three months.
MTC is among the biggest players in Zimbabwe’s tobacco industry. In the 2013/14 agriculture season it purchased $79,9 million worth of tobacco from contracted growers.
So far the company has purchased 30 million kg, the bulk from contract farmers.
Once the country’s number one foreign currency earner, tobacco production declined both in quantity and quality since government sponsored a land redistribution exercise that, at times, turned violent and was condemned by most international partners.
The land reforms, initially meant to redress colonial land imbalances, turned into a free-for-all with political cronies connected to the ruling elite benefitting the most.
Production of the cash crop has however rebounded in recent years. source-newzimbabwe
photo-Mashonaland Tobacco Company (MTC) warehouse in Harare’s Willovale industrial area, on fire-newzimbabwe