Tobaco Disaster Could Wreck Industry

Tobacco Disaster Could Wreck Industry

HARARE - Zimbabwe's tobacco farmers are this year expected to produce just 65 million kgs of tobacco, the lowest output for years, due to flooding and water shortages.

Zimbabwe, recently the second-largest exporter of tobacco, producing leaf for cigarettes such as Camel, Marlboro and Winston, will see an even lower yield than the 73 million kgs produced last year.

Zimbabwe grows 20 percent of the tobacco that enhances the taste of cigarettes made by global companies such as Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds Tobacco Holdings.

Export annual tobacco income was US$600 million eight years ago, but last year the country earned only US$170 million.

Andrew Ferreira, the Zimbabwe Tobacco Association president, said: “We don’t like what we see. We are projecting 65 to 70 million kgs. The irrigated crop was affected by water shortages while the flooding in areas where there was a dry land tobacco crop has drastically affected yields. He also lamented input shortages. 

Standard Commercial and rivals Dimon, Universal and British American Tobacco were said to be mulling scrapping their investments in the country if production continued on a downward trend.

A senior official at Harare’s Tobacco Sales Floors, the biggest tobacco market said: The interest in our crop is falling dramatically, he said. All the hard work we’ve put into maintaining our position in the world market will be for nothing.

He warned that a smaller crop would cut the profits that the largest tobacco leaf merchants make from running their warehouses and sending buyers to Zimbabwe, making it cheaper for them to focus on Brazil’s expanding tobacco industry. The departure of these buyers would bankrupt Zimbabwean farmers.

Zimbabwe’s tobacco industry began in 1894 and had until 2000, when the land grab started, dominated the trade of top-quality tobacco, known as flue-cured tobacco, together with Brazil and the US.

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