Zimbabwe misses tobacco target

HARARE – Zimbabwe  has missed the 170 million kg tobacco production target set for the industry this year as the selling season for the golden leaf comes to an end on Friday.

Statistics from the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (Timb) show that 156,2 million kg, a 20,4 percent increase from the same period last year, had been auctioned at the country’s three auction floors by day 95.

Tobacco sales raked in $577,3 million, representing a 20 percent increase from the same period last year, while the average price per kg this year was $3,70 compared to last year’s $3,71.

As deliveries of the golden leaf continue to trickle in, contract sales contributed $390 million while the three auction floors chipped in with the remaining $187 million.

Andrew Matibiri, Timb chief executive said all growers should complete their grading and bailing operations well before the final sales day.

He said while the closing date was only for auction sales, contract sales would continue until further notice. A clean-up sale will be held on August 6.

Although Matibiri remained upbeat on reaching the target, market watchers say at best the sales would reach 160 million kg more than five percent short of the mark.

Despite the country missing a target of 170 million kg, tobacco farming is however, slowly rebounding after years of decline following farm disruptions over the last decade when President Robert Mugabe’s government seized white-owned commercial farms to give to landless blacks.

Production has been rising since 2009, though it remains off a peak in 2000 of 236 million kg.

Zimbabwe, was once the world’s biggest tobacco exporter, with sales accounting for 30 percent of exports, but production fell to a low of 55,6 million kg in 2006, the weakest performance since independence.

The sudden collapse of commercial farming caused by the land reforms sent the country’s already wobbly economy into a tailspin, leading to a world-record hyperinflation.

Mugabe has defended the scheme as necessary to redress colonial-era injustices, but the violent campaign had a political colouring linked to deadly attacks against his rivals.

The inflation, believed to have reached multiples of billions in 2008, made it impossible for the new farmers to budget to buy fertilisers and other supplies.

After the government abolished the Zimbabwe dollar and made the US dollar its currency of reference, farm production stabilised and has began ticking upward.

Tobacco remains Zimbabwe’s biggest agricultural export, though mining has overtaken farming as the main foreign currency earner.

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