Agriculture Reporter
Tobacco growers have collectively earned $129 million after selling 50 million kilogrammes of flue-cured tobacco since the opening of the marketing season last month.

Statistics from the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) show that the volumes and income from the crop have declined compared to the same period last year. TIMB statistics show that by day 33, sales were 7 percent less from the 54 million kg that were sold last season worth $170 million.

The earnings have declined by 18 percent from the same period last year.

Prices for this season have been depressed since the opening of the season compared to last season.

The average price at day one was $2,80 compared to $3,15 per kg.

The decline in prices has been attributed to the poor quality of the lower leaves as a result of the drought and floods. Buyers had indicated early in the season that they were not interested in the lower leaves but some farmers were not aware of the position and brought the leaves for sale.

The primings were bought at low prices, forcing farmers to demonstrate against the prices.

The prices were improving as the season progressed with the real leaves coming for sale.

TIMB statistics show that the highest price at the auction floors for the past four years have remained at $4,99 per kg while the crop at the contract floors has fetched a highest price of $6,25 per kg.

Farmers have constantly complained over the price disparities at the auction and contract floors.

Buyers have argued that they pay higher prices at the contract floors as an incentive and also the crop was traceable and grown according to the requirements of the market.

Farmers have blamed the TIMB for failing to take stern measures against buyers for creating a price ceiling.

TIMB chief executive Dr Andrew Matibiri said tobacco was sold according to grades and farmers should pay attention to proper agronomic details to get a good quality that was required by buyers.

Tobacco experts have, on the other hand, blamed farmers unions for collecting subscriptions from farmers and not doing enough to educate them on the market requirements and important aspects in tobacco production.

Tobacco Industry Development Support Institute executive director Mr Jeffrey Takawira said the challenge in tobacco prices was that there were few buyers.

“The auction system is generally regarded as a fair way of selling tobacco. The major challenge is that buyers have remained European and Chinese.

“The number of buyers is so small that it renders the auction system open to manipulation. The best way of solving the issue of low prices would be to invest in value addition,” said Mr Takawira.