Tobacco deliveries breach 100m (kg) mark

HARARE - Zimbabwe's tobacco deliveries have breached the 100 million kilogrammes (kg) mark — earning the country over $303 million — latest data show.

Statistics released by the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) show that 20 million kg tobacco worth $51 million went under the hammer at the country’s three auction floors — Boka Tobacco, Premier Tobacco and Tobacco Sales Floor — by the end of day 43.

On the other hand, contract sales brought in $251 million from the auctioning of 81 million kg of the golden leaf.

This comes as Zimbabwe is expected to harvest at least 180 million kg of tobacco down from the 216 million kg recorded two years ago due to an El Nino-induced drought that has left nearly 5,54 million people in need of food aid.

In 2010, production was 58,5 million kg before surging to 123,5 million kg in 2011 and growing further to 132,5 million kg in 2012.

In 2013, 144 million kg was produced. In 2014, the country’s production grew to 216 million kg before dropping to 199 million last year.

With Brazil, India and Tanzania having downsized their tobacco production this year, it is estimated that global demand for the golden leaf will increase, pushing up local prices.

In 2014, the average tobacco price dropped to $3,17 per kg before tumbling further to $2,93 per kg last season, prompting some farmers to ditch production of the crop.

However, despite the increase in sales and a marketing season with better prices compared to the low prices that prevailed last year, some farmers are failing to access the $10 000 cash from their respective banks.

Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union president, Wonder Chabikwa, recently said it was disheartening to note that some banks were failing to comply with the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) directive that farmers be allowed to withdraw $10 000 daily.

“Unfortunately, depending on the bank, some farmers are getting $1 000 while other banks are able to serve the farmers and provide the $10 000 limit,” he said.

This was after the central bank and the TIMB early this year advised farmers to open bank accounts to allow them easy access to cash.

“All proceeds from the sale of tobacco will be paid through bank accounts. In this regard, farmers are required to open accounts with banks of their choice to facilitate the payments.

“Banks have been engaged and are going to offer bank accounts to tobacco growers at favourable conditions which include waiving of charges for maintaining bank accounts,” said a joint statement from TIMB and RBZ at the start of the marketing season.

Farmers said because of the limited cash withdrawals, they were being forced to spend days camped at the auction floors waiting for cash.

“Farmers need cash to pay for labour considering the fact that others are still grading and curing, transport operators also need to be paid in cash,” Chabikwa said.

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