Cotton farmers switch to tobacco

HARARE - Most cotton growers in areas that traditionally grow tobacco have now switched to the golden leaf as a result of cotton’s uneconomic pricing as high cost of production weighs down heavily on profit margins.

Speaking to businessdaily, Tobacco Industry Marketing Board (TIMB) chief executive Andrew Matibiri said cotton farmers from within traditional tobacco-growing areas were now taking up growing the golden leaf.

“We now have farmers who are also in the so-called cotton-growing areas who are changing to tobacco. Areas like Zhombe, Midlands, Buhera and so forth they are now turning to tobacco,” said Matibiri.

Most farmers previously farming cotton have of late been constructing curing barns as well as seedbeds in preparation for planting and treating the tobacco crop after harvesting.

Cotton contracting companies were offering prices ranging between 30c to 35c despite government orders to review the price to 77c per kilogramme (kg).

Uneconomic pricing coupled with labour intensive production and threats from contracting companies to cease cotton producers’ property if they do not repay loans by end of month, has rendered cotton farming unviable and tobacco has proven to be a good alternative crop.

Matibiri said as farmers were buying seed, they would also register with TIMB. The new farmers together with the already registered growers doubled figures to 50 418 so far for the forthcoming 2013 season up from 25 466 registered in same period last year.

Matibiri said figures for farmers under contracting farming would only be available when farmers finish planting.

“So far we don’t have the figures because we can only get them when the planting season is over after December 31.

“But on the whole a lot of farmers are now being contracted to grow tobacco,” said Matibiri adding that tobacco growing is expensive thus most farmers were opting for contract farming.

This is in spite of threats to Zimbabwe’s tobacco production as a result of global smoke reduction strategies and recent anti-tobacco marketing bans.

Zimbabwe’s tobacco production might take a hit following the adoption of anti-tobacco marketing bans and packaging cigarettes in drab boxes devoid of branding in countries such as Australia and New Zealand with neighbouring South Africa already contemplating the move.

However, the increase in registered tobacco growers strongly indicates that tobacco farming is on the rebound and is now considered a reliable source of income for most farming households owing to its base as a cash crop.

Matibiri highlighted that although there are widespread global threats on tobacco production, for as long as tobacco is a legal crop and that if ready markets were available and for as long as the golden leaf sustains livelihoods, TIMB will continue to promote it.

The marketing board said the country earned $525 million from 144 million kilogrammes of tobacco in this year’s season from last year’s $360 million.

Although a nine percent increase in total production was achieved in the just-ended season, overall output missed the 150 million kilogrammes production target.

This season’s 144 million kgs is the highest production achieved since the redistribution of land to indigenous Zimbabweans over a decade ago, but it remains way below the year 2000’s peak of 236 million kilogrammes.

Of the total, 52 million kilogrammmes were sold through auction and the remainder via a contract system. TIMB said the average price per kg this year was $3,65, reflecting a 34 percent increase in average prices compared to last year.

Tobacco is one of Zimbabwe’s major agricultural exports, accounting for 10,7 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.

Major export destinations include China, United Kingdom, South Africa, Indonesia, the United Arab Emirates, Mauritius and Russia. - Kudzai Chawafambira

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