ZIMBABWE’S tobacco farmers have increased the area under the golden leaf this year, but remain cautious that output will surpass last year’s 252 million kilogrammes record as the threat of poor rainfall are increasingly becoming a reality.
BY FIDELITY MHLANGA
According to government statistics, 168 735 farmers had registered to grow tobacco by December 27 last year, an increase of almost 50% when compared to the 113 530 farmers who registered in the previous season.
At least 79 708 hectares have been put under tobacco production, with 16 847ha under irrigation and 62 861ha under dry land.
“The irrigated tobacco is now being harvested. Reaping and curing is now in progress. Dry land crop has been scorched by the heat. After the rains early this month, the crop recovered,” Federation of Farmers’ Union president Wonder Chabikwa said.
“If we get normal rainfall, we can achieve better and even slightly more than last season because farmers who registered to grow tobacco this season are many. This normally culminates in more hectarage.”
According to forecasts, the southern African nation will experience drought-like conditions characterised by below average rainfall in the 2018/19 season.
The season started late and rain has been erratic.
Tobacco Association of Zimbabwe president Guy Mutasa said he was optimistic that yields would not tumble sharply owing to the anticipated poor rains.
“The projected tobacco output is 250 million kg, but for now, we do not want to be too ambitious, in case the El Nino will hit us hard. We just hope El Nino will not give us problems,” he said.
Tobacco is the country’s second biggest export earning commodity after gold.
In 2017, tobacco accounted for a quarter of Zimbabwe’s $3,8 billion export earnings. It is also one of the largest employers in the country, where formal employment is scarce.