Tobacco sales hit $58m

HARARE - Zimbabwe has so far earned $58 million from 19 million kg of tobacco auctioned since the beginning of the 2014 selling season mid-February 19.

Statistics from the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (Timb) reveal that the latest figures are, however, five percent down compared to $61 million realised in the same period last year after the auctioning of 17 million kg of the golden leaf.

Of the 19 million kg sold, contract farmers accounted for 13,1 million kg valued at $42 million.

Tobacco Sales Floor sold three million kg valued at $8 million, Boka Tobacco Auction Floors sold 1,7 million kg valued at $4,2 million while tobacco worth $3,4 million went under the hammer at Premier Tobacco Floors.

The average price during the 19th day of sales was $3 per kg, a 16,27 percent decline compared to $3,57 per kg obtained in the prior period.

On Friday last week, tension was high at various tobacco auction floors in Harare where angry tobacco growers accused unscrupulous buyers of cheating them.

The situation was especially volatile at Boka Auction Floors where farmers pushed for physical action, including protests, against what they said was a deliberate move by the buyers to short-change them.

The farmers claimed that prices, which ranged from as low as $0,60 to around $3 per kg, were a mockery of their hard work.

Anti-riot police could be seen milling around the premises, further incensing farmers who believed it was a move to intimidate them against protesting.

Andrew Matibiri, the Timb chief executive said lower prices were prevalent this year as buyers were no longer interested in low-quality tobacco.

He dismissed suggestions that buyers were cheating the farmers.

“Low-quality tobacco has gone down in price by between 15 to 16 percent as compared to last year.

“The buyers are more interested in good-quality leaf,” he said.

Matibiri said those farmers who had the good-quality tobacco were enjoying good and competitive prices.

“If any farmer is disgruntled, they should approach any of our staff who are always present on the floors or the growers’ representatives,” he said.

Timb said Zimbabwe’s tobacco output may rise to 180 million kg this season, as more farmers have grown the crop as the nation’s climatic environment improves.

“Small-scale tobacco farmers currently account for more than half of Zimbabwe’s output. As production rises, farmers should now focus on improving quality,” said Timb.

Zimbabwe earned $616 million from tobacco sales last year, according to the board which oversees the industry.  China was the main buyer, replacing Western companies that were traditionally the biggest buyers, it said.

Zimbabwe is the world’s sixth-largest exporter of flue-cured Virginia tobacco.

It lags behind Brazil, India, the United States, Argentina and Tanzania, according to the Universal Corp. website, the world’s biggest tobacco-leaf merchant.

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