Zimbabwe tobacco earnings for 2016 have slumped significantly after a severe drought that has left 4.5 million people, who represent 30% of the rural population, in need of food aid.
To date, a total of 187.6 million kg (m.kg) of tobacco leaf worth $548 million has been sold compared with 189 m.kg worth $855 million sold in 2015. The four-month 2016 marketing season will end on August 5.
Overall output for 2016 is expected to reach 190 m.kg against an initial target of 160 m.kg, an industry official told Xinhua Friday.
Earnings, however, would suffer a significant decline and this was mainly due to poor quality crop as a result of the drought. While maintaining last year’s average price of $2.94 per kg, the drought had generally reduced the quality of the crop this year thereby affecting prices, said Isheunesu Moyo, the public relations and communications manager of the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board.
He said the improved tobacco output was due to some rains received during the mid-season and improved agronomic practices by the growers.
Many farmers also put their crop under irrigation and this helped to increase the crop, 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 m.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.
Tobacco is generally Zimbabwe’s largest foreign currency earner but it appears it has been surpassed this year by mining, which has already raked in $806 million from export sales in the first half of 2016. More than 50% of Zimbabwe’s tobacco crop is exported to China every year.
Last year, farmers produced 198.95 m.kg of tobacco pocketing over $584 million, a significant decline from 216 m.kg recorded in 2014 earning the country $684 million.
Experts 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.