Nyashadzashe Chamwaura Herald Reporter—
Zimbabwe earned about $196 million from 27 million kg of tobacco exported between last month and mid-February. Statistics from the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board show that the latest figures are six times higher than $36 million realised in the same period last year from 10,5 million kg of the golden leaf.
Increasing revenue from tobacco exports attests to the success of the land reform programme and is boon for Zim-Asset which identifies agricultural productivity as one of the key drivers of the economic turnaround programme.
The bulk of the exports were to China which snapped up 19,1 million kg valued at $167 million, while exports to South Africa were 2 million kg ($7,89 million), Mauritius 936 000kg ($3,4 million), Russia 887 200 kg($1,8 million) and the UAE 650 034kg valued at $2,57 million.
Exports were mainly to 29 countries in Asia, Europe, America, the Middle East, Africa, New Zealand and Solomon Islands in the Oceania.
Last year, sales were made to 33 countries.
Auction floors will open on March 4 and contract sales on March 5.
The tobacco marketing season traditionally starts in mid-February, but this yearâs season was pushed to March as there was no harvested crop for sale.
TIMB chief executive officer Dr Andrew Matibiri said the tobacco crop was still at different stages of growth, hence there was no need to open the auction floors yet.
Some farmers were still reaping irrigated tobacco, while the rain-fed crop was ripening.
Communal farmers, who produce the bulk of Zimbabweâs tobacco, practice rain-fed agriculture.
About 88 500 farmers have registered to grow the crop this season, up from 85 100 during the same period last year.
The number of farmers growing tobacco has been increasing each year following the land reform programme, which created opportunities for a majority of farmers to own land.
Previosuly, tobacco farming was a preserve of a few white farmers who controlled the market, but the fact that more farmers are now in tobacco farming means more land is under the crop.
Only three auction floors have applied to buy tobacco this season.
Farmers have in the past seasons faced problems at the auction floors including long queues and not being paid on time.
The farmers have also complained of the gradingt system which they say does not favour good prices for their crop.
In the 2015 National Budget, the Government projected that 90 000 hectares would be put under tobacco with output projected at 220 million kg.
Last year, flue-cured tobacco output amounted to 216 million kg, up from 165,85 million kg in 2013.
Zimbabwe earned $773 million from tobacco exports last year, a decline from $877 million earned during the same period in 2013.
Sales in 2014 were affected by a strike by workers at Mashonaland Tobacco Company between September and October last year.