Zim surpasses tobacco target

HARARE - Zimbabwe has surpassed this year’s 170 million kilogrammes tobacco production despite the crop being affected by drought, latest data show.

Statistics released by the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) yesterday revealed that farmers have so far produced 183 million kg of the golden leaf earning the country a total of $537 million.

The latest figure is, however, still trailing, 198,95 million kg of tobacco produced last year resulting in farmers pocketing over $584 million. In 2014, total flue-cured tobacco amounted to 216 million kilogrammes earning the country $684 million.

Agriculture experts said production of the golden leaf, like many other crops, was expected to decline by 20 percent following an El Nino-induced drought that has left at least five million Zimbabweans in need of food aid.

The erratic rains and long dry spells forced farmers to plant late, hence the late start of the marketing season.

“Besides poor rains, we expected tobacco production to decline due to the low prices offered by buyers last season, such that the area under crop for the 2016/17 season declined to 89 500 hectares from 93 419 hectares during the previous season,” said an agronomist with a local farmers union.

Figures from TIMB also show that a total of 34 million kg of tobacco worth $148,5 million were sold at the auction floors while 148 million kg worth $448 million was sold under the contract system.

The average price of tobacco at auction floors is currently $2, 58 per kg while the contracted crop is being bought at an average price of $3, 02 per kg.

TIMB said the top price for the contract floors was $6, 25 per kg while at the auction floors it was $4, 99 per kg. The lowest price that has been recorded so far is $0, 10 per kg.

Meanwhile preparations for 2016/17 tobacco growing season have started with farmers begin purchasing seeds despite a decline in seeds sold so far than last year.

Tobacco farming has become a cash crop for many small-scale farmers in Zimbabwe, as economic woes have continued to persist in the country.

Official figures show that over 80 000 farmers have registered to sell their tobacco crop at the country’s auction floors this year.

Tobacco farming, which declined significantly following farm disruptions over the last decade when President Robert Mugabe’s government seized white-owned commercial farms to give to landless blacks, is slowly rebounding.

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.

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

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