Walter Muchinguri and Elita Chikwati
The country is this year likely to produce between 183 million and 194 million kilogrammes of Virginia tobacco, down from 216 million kg last year as a result of the unfavourable rainfall pattern that affected the crop.
Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board chief executive Dr Andrew Matibiri said the 10 to 15 percent decline was due to weather challenges that farmers have encountered this season.
TIMB chairperson Mrs Monica Chinamasa admitted that the 2014/2015 tobacco growing season was unique.
“It was a late season and planting was way behind but I like tobacco growers because they do not give up; they are busy in their field as we speak,” she said.
Dr Matibiri, however, said the decline in production this year, while worrying, could work in favour of the farmers as demand for the country’s tobacco has remained stable at about 230 million kg.
“Last year there was demand for 230 million kg and we managed to sell all our tobacco. This year the demand has remained constant, which means that there is likely to be competition in terms of buying tobacco, which should push up prices,” he said.
He added that this was also likely to convince buyers that have declared that they will not buy primings to do so.
“There will be a market for primings this year but the prices offered will be low but some of the primings could fetch higher prices depending on the quality,” he said.
Mrs Chinamasa and Dr Matibiri were speaking during a tour to assess the state preparedness of the three auction floors, that will operate this season, namely Tobacco Sales Floors, Premier Tobacco Auction Floors and Boka Tobacco Auction Floors and contractor Zimbabwe Leaf Tobacco last week, which showed a marked improvement in the state of preparedness from last season.
There was a lot of activity at all the four floors with workers attending to different areas such as the floors, the receiving areas, ablution facilities, canteens and accommodation facilities for farmers among other things while others were receiving tobacco to be sold next week.
Tobacco Sales Floors, which accounted for 50 percent of the tobacco sold under the auction system last year, had by Friday afternoon received about 3 000 bales while Boka Tobacco Auction Floors that accounted for 26 percent had 600 bales and Premier Tobacco which handled 24 percent had 200 bales.
Mrs Chinamasa said she was happy with the high level of preparedness by the auction floors and urged the floor operators to respect the views of farmers. She said farmers should not be brushed aside if they have complaints.
“I am impressed by the level of preparedness by the auction floors. The floors should have health facilities for farmers. The facilities should offer all basics for farmers,” she said.
Meanwhile, Mrs Chinamasa said the rehandling of tobacco will this year be done at all the auction floor by rehandlers approved by the TIMB and the tobacco was expected to return for resale within 36 hours.
The move, she said, was expected to curb side marketing and the activities of illegal buyers at the floors.
The TIMB has already approved eight commercial rehandlers to perform the task at all the floors.
Apart from the rehandlers the TIMB has this year licensed 20 Class A buyers, four of whom are new and 15 contractors, of which three – Gold Leaf Services, Maxlucky Tobacco (Pvt) Ltd and Premier Tobacco Auction Floors – are new.
The board has also approved three suppliers of hessian bags, fumigators, tobacco paper and tobacco twine.
There are 89 270 growers who have registered with the TIMB for the 2015 marketing season.