HARARE - Zimbabwe has auctioned tobacco worth $16 million since the opening of the 2014 selling season mid-February.
The figure, according to statistics from Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (Timb), is up four percent from $15,4 million realised in the same period last year.
Timb said that farmers who sold 2,7 million kg of the commodity at Boka, Premier and Tobacco Sales auctions received $6,5 million while contract farmers earned $9,4 million from the three million kg.
However, prices have declined 15,16 percent to average $2,79 per kg this season compared to around $3,50 last year.
Andrew Matibiri, Timb’s chief executive, said the prevailing low prices are normal when marketing begins, with better prices expected as the season progresses.
“There is nothing abnormal about $0,10 per kg because that is the minimum price. Remember prices also depend on the quality of the leaf.
“We expect that people are now basically bringing low leaves that have the lowest quality in terms of components like nicotine content,” he said, noting that some of the crop was selling for as much as $4 per kg.
Zimbabwean farmers have since 2009 been increasingly engaged in tobacco farming due to its favourable prices compared to cotton and maize prices.
In the 2013/14 season more than 88 000 growers have registered as compared to 65 444 last year.
Out of the registered growers, 26 816 are new growers. Of these more than 1 000 are new growers from Masvingo, Midlands and Matabeleland North, areas which were previously non-traditional tobacco growing areas.
At least 180 million kg is expected to be sold this year up from 166 million kg earning the country $621,1 million.
However, agriculture experts believe that the heavy rains the country received in January and February greatly compromised both the quality and quantity of tobacco.
They estimate that a yield of one-and-a-half to two tonnes per hectare has to be reviewed downwards.
At the peak of output, the southern African country produced 236 million kg of tobacco, which is commonly referred to as the golden leaf locally and is grown mainly by small-scale farmers.
Prior the land-reform programme supported by President Robert Mugabe, which began in 2000, the country grew most of its tobacco on large commercial farms.
Zimbabwe traditionally competes with countries including Brazil and the United States as a key source of the top-quality variety of the crop known as flue-cured tobacco.