Tobacco farmers tough it out

HARARE - Zimbabwean tobacco farmers have remained resilient in the face of a devastating drought — which has left more than 5,5 million people in need of food aid — and are set to surpass the new target of 190 million kilogrammes (kg).

This was after the country had set an initial target of 175 million kg on the back of an El Nino-induced drought that saw many farmers writing off their crop.

Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board communications manager, Isheunesu Moyo, told the Daily News on Sunday that the rising golden leaf deliveries were a testimony of an improved performance by tobacco farmers at a time maize producers only harvested a paltry 742 000 tonnes in the 2014-15 season — less than the 1,8 million tonnes required by the Zimbabwean population.

“Zimbabwean tobacco farmers have improved on their agronomic practices over the years. They are also investing in farming as a business through putting irrigation infrastructure and rocket barns. As a result, they were able to adapt to El-Nino weather phenomena,” he said.

This year, only 40 000 farmers have so far registered with the industry regulator to sell their tobacco compared to over 80 000 registered in the same period last year.

Moyo, however, said the tobacco industry regulator will continue to hold trainings for farmers across the country to ensure that Zimbabwe reaches its all-time peak of 236 million kg that was achieved in the year 2000.

“We also have revolving schemes to install drip irrigation and rocket barns for tobacco farmers. This will improve quality and output,” he said.

Last year, farmers produced 198,95 million kg of tobacco pocketing over $584 million, a significant decline from 216 million kg recorded in 2014 earning the country $684 million.

As of yesterday, a total of 187 million kg worth over $550 million had been sold at an average price of $2,94/kg since the season began in March.

This compares favourably with 176 million kg valued at $518 million that was sold during the corresponding period last year at an average price of $2,95/kg.

Tobacco production has been recovering over the past few years after collapsing at the start of the last decade as the sector adjusted to changes following the country’s land reform programme.

Experts, however, said the current marketing season could have been better had it not been affected by a number of challenges such as poor prices, shortages of wrapping paper, congestion and corruption by some employees at the auction floors. These have, however, been dealt with.

Encouraged by the success of their flue-cured tobacco, some farmers in Manicaland have ventured into barley tobacco production.

Barley tobacco, which is used for wrapping cigars, has a ready market in South Africa, Europe, Asia and Latin America.

One of the farmers, Lionel Guild, said they were looking forward to increasing hectarage of the crop as and when the demand increases.

“There is a big market for it, particularly in Europe and the Americas and also in South Africa. At the moment, we are selling to a company in Germany. We are increasing our crop with each harvest and also depending on the demand but one thing for sure is that there is a ready market out there,” says Guild.

Lucy Machiki, another farmer from Burma Valley, says apart from being a money spinner, the crop is environmentally-friendly.

“The advantages of this cigar crop is that we are not going to cut down trees as is with others, what we have to do is only dry the leaves through the natural air in the open and that way we preserve our trees.”

Her views are echoed by her colleague, Winnie Maisiri, who said they now have to only use simple methods of transporting their produce to the auction floor.

“We market our crop locally and we no longer need to travel far and meet transport costs as is with other crops. We simply need to use a scotch cart or wheelbarrow to bring it to the market that is within our village and we are happy with this development,” she added.

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