Zim to begin selling tobacco

Zimbabwe's tobacco selling season opens tomorrow with at least 150 million kilogrammes expected to be sold this year up from 132.5 million kilogrammes sold last year, in yet another sign of recovery in the farming sector after a decade of decline blamed on President Robert Mugabe’s land reforms.

Buyers examine tobacco leaf at the auction floors.
Buyers examine tobacco leaf at the auction floors.

Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) chief executive officer Andrew Matibiri said the board was not able to give an exact figure of how much tobacco will be sold this season as most of the crop was yet to be harvested.

But some industry experts said as much as190 million kilograms could be sold this year, a figure within touching distance of the 236 million kilogrammes realised from the 1999/2000 season before the chaotic and often violent land reforms destabilised agriculture.

“It is a bit too difficult to make an accurate production at this point however we expect anything within the range of 190 million kilogrammes of tobacco to be sold this season,” said a top official at Tobacco Sales Floor (TSF), one of Zimbabwe’s biggest auction floors.

Tobacco output has steadily increased over the past four seasons as more black villagers resettled on former white farmers opted for the highly rewarding cash crop dubbed the ‘golden leaf ’.

From an all-time low of 48.8 million kilogrammes produced in 2008, tobacco output rose to 60 million kilogrammes in 2009 and 123 million kilogrammes in 2010.

According to Matibiri 60 000 farmers were registered to grow tobacco in the 2011/12 season or 35 000 more farmers than were recorded in the 2010/11 season.

Prior to Mugabe’s controversial land reforms tobacco production was largely a preserve of white commercial farmers who numbered only 4000 and not all of whom grew the crop.

Once a breadbasket of the region during the first two decades of independence, Zimbabwe has 2001 largely relied on food handouts from aid agencies after production plummeted when Mugabe seized white commercial farms for redistribution to landless blacks.

The plunge in production coincided with the collapse of the economy, which was marked by hyperinflation and acute shortages of foreign currency and high unemployment.

Commercial farming was once a preserve of white Rhodesian farmers, but in the last decade the sector has embraced a new crop of black farmers who have struggled to maintain previous production levels due to widespread shortages of farming inputs like seed and fertilizer.

But the plunge in agriculture could have bottomed out as witnessed by rising production in tobacco and maize and a rebound in dairy and cattle farming.

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