HARARE - Belgium has overtaken China as the major buyer of Zimbabwe’s tobacco.
The Asian economic giant, which has traditionally been the top importer of Zimbabwean tobacco, has dropped to fourth position.
In last year’s season, Belgium was the third biggest buyer.
Statistics for the 2014 tobacco selling season released by the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (Timb) indicate that as at April 17, Belgium was the top buyer having acquired 3,4 million kilogrammes (kg) of the commodity valued at $9,1 million.
The tobacco was bought at an average price of $2, 67 per kg.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has maintained its second position from last season as major buyer of the golden leaf while South Africa (SA) is third.
China has been the single largest buyer of Zimbabwean tobacco for more than five years and is increasingly playing a significant role in supporting production of the crop, which contributes significantly to Zimbabwe's export receipts.
Last year, it bought 60,3 million kg, valued at $475,6 million, of the total 153,3 million kg Zimbabwe produced.
The major export markets for Zimbabwe's tobacco include China, South Africa, UAE, Hong Kong and Sudan.
In 2012, Belgium, China, Indonesia, SA and Russia were the top five buyers.
Zimbabwe exports more than 80 percent of its tobacco, mainly semi-processed.
In the current season, which began mid-February, Malaysia is offering the highest price at $8,72 per kg followed by Taiwan offering $7,67 and Turkey at $7,56.
Tobacco is among Zimbabwe's major export commodities along with gold and platinum.
In 2000, the country reached a peak production of 237 million kg.
In 2008, output hit an all-time low of 48 million kg following a land repossession exercise that disrupted commercial farming of the crop.
In 2010 production improved to 123 million kg and then to 131 million kg in 2011.
This year, Zimbabwe expects to sell at least 180 million kg.
The agriculture sector contributes approximately 20 percent to Zimbabwe's gross domestic product of $6 billion.
Other major contributors are manufacturing at 24 percent and services at 54 percent.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe has so far auctioned 89 million kg worth $286 million since the beginning of the selling season two months ago.