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RBZ in ambitious alliance

Godfrey Marawanyika

THE Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) in conjunction with tobacco growers has come up with Vision 160, a policy meant to increase tobacco production from this year’s paltry 65 million kg to

an ambitious 160 million kg next year.

Zimbabwe Tobacco Association (ZTA) chief executive officer Rodney Ambrose said the industry was working towards stabilisation before tobacco output could increase again, adding that farmers were behind with land preparations.

He said the tobacco industry had the potential to produce a huge crop if farmers received adequate funding.

“There is need for financing to rehabilitate some infrastructure which has been left idle over the years. The Vision 160 has been put in place by the Reserve Bank and I must say it has given us tremendous support this year,” Ambrose said.

“We have had at least four or five years of decline. So this vision will result in some sort of stability. Next year will be a rebuilding exercise, where we hope the production will be around 160 million kg.”

Tobacco is Zimbabwe’s largest foreign currency earner, accounting for about a third of the country’s earnings.

However, due to the fast-track land resettlement programme in which tobacco farmers were removed from their farms, production has gone down from the high of about 250 million kg three years ago.

By Tuesday afternoon the 2003/04 flue-cured Virginia tobacco crop had reached about 64,3 million kg when the sales floors closed from the previous season’s 82 million kg.

Ambrose said at most Zimbabwe was expecting at least 65 million kg for this year.

The irrigated tobacco crop, which accounts for 40% of output, was being planted as of this week while the dryland crop is expected in the ground by October.

Ambrose said judging by the number of sold seeds, next year’s production could increase.

Analysts, however, dispute this saying tobacco production could be reduced even further next year judging by the land preparations and the fact that banks were not lending commercial farmers money citing the great risk associated with lack of security.

To accommodate extra tobacco which might not have found its way onto the floors during the normal marketing season, Ambrose said mop up sales would be held on October 14 and 18.

He said Vision 160 was made up of an RBZ advisory task force, adding that he was confident that production would increase next year.

During the past years Zimbabwe stood among the top five tobacco growers and exporters but has lost the title due to the controversial land programme.

Tobacco production has continued to decline resulting in low foreign currency earnings.

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