Cash availability key to tobacco revival

tobacco_cropHARARE Availability of funds is likely to play a significant part in reviving Zimbabwe's tobacco crop in the 2009/10 season, with output seen far off the bumper levels of 2000 but slightly above last years meagre 54 million kilogrammes, a senior industry official said last week.

Tobacco production, a mainstay of Zimbabwe’s economy, which traditionally accounted for about a third of export earnings before the chaotic land reform programme began in 2000, has plunged from a high of 237 million kg in 2000 to 54 million kg last season.

Newly elected Zimbabwe Tobacco Association (ZTA) president Kevin Cook said last week that tobacco output this season was likely to range between 55 and 65 million kg depending on the availability of funding.

Based on seed sales, we are expecting a bigger crop during the coming season. The size of the crop will be determined by the availability of finance and inputs but we are expecting it to be anywhere between 55 and 65 million kg, Cook told The Zimbabwean On Sunday last week.

Last year the state Tobacco Industry Marketing Board said the industry had targeted output of 90 million kg but this failed to materialise due to lack of funds and inputs.

Zimbabwe recently secured a US$60 million loan from the Africa Export Import Bank to boost tobacco production.

The southern African nation needs about $120 million to increase annual tobacco output to 75 million kg from the current production level.

Critics also point to disruptions to agriculture linked to President Robert Mugabe’s controversial seizure of white-owned commercial farms for redistribution to landless blacks.

Often-violent farm invasions by Mugabes loyalists have seen tobacco production plummet from a high of 237 million kg at the turn of the century.

Agricultural experts say it would take several years for Zimbabwe to regain the ground lost over the past few years and match the year 2000 peak.

At its peak the industry accounted for a third of Zimbabwes foreign currency earnings and was the single largest employer in a country with a high unemployment and inflation rate.

Post published in: Economy

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