Power shortages hit tobacco farming

Tobacco farming has come under threat from incessant power cuts that have resulted in households and industries going for lengthy periods without electricity, a Tobacco Industry Marketing (TIMB) official has said.

Fidelity Mhlanga

“Tobacco under irrigation is suffering because of power shortages. You can’t plant when you don’t have power. We are expecting that rainfall will help farmers,” Tobacco Industry Marketing Board CE Andrew Matibiri said this week.

The plunging water levels in the Kariba Dam, now below 16%, resulted in abnormal power cuts across the country as Zesa tries to distribute the limited power that is currently being generated.

Currently, the country generates slightly below 1000MW against peak demand of 2200MW, resulting in a huge supply deficit.

Power shortages are coming at a time when Southern African Regional Climate Outlook Forum (SARCOF) predicts normal to below normal rainfall season, clearly spelling disaster for the country’s agricultural season.

The effects of El Nino include reversal of wind patterns across the Pacific which in turn is expected to result in erratic rainfall this year.

Matibiri said tobacco was planted in September and October, with some now at ripping stage.

As at end of November, irrigated tobacco stood at 14,860 hectares whereas 13,903 hectares is under dry land. TIMB’s latest statistics show that hectarage under tobacco farming this year slipped by 21% from 36,025 last season to 28,763 this year.

Last year, 21, 250 hectares of tobacco was under dry land with 14, 775 hectares covered by irrigation. Poor rainfall in the 2014-15 season resulted in substantial amounts of poor quality tobacco lower leaves being delivered thus reducing average crop prices.

Despite the fact that most farmers are failing to support themselves, Zimbabwe has earned US$700 million from 124,4 million kilogrammes of tobacco exported across the world.

Of the US$933 million pledged by banks to the agricultural sector in the 2015/ 2016 agriculture season, about 60% is expected to into tobacco.

“It’s largely because tobacco has a very effective value chain system whereby you lend money to contractors or a farmer who sells to the auction system and the bank is repaid,” Matibiri said. During the 2014/2015 marketing season the average 2015 tobacco price stood at US$2,93, down from US$3,17 the previous season.

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