Ndamu Sandu/Godfrey Marawanyika
ZIMBABWE’S ambitious drive to produce 160 million kg of tobacco is in doubt as only 85 million kg will be available when the selling season opens next month, businessdig
est can reveal.
The tobacco selling season opens on April 5.
The policy to boost tobacco production was launched last year under the banner of Vision 160. The drive was envisaged to raise tobacco output to 160 million kg this year from a paltry 64 million kg last year.
Vision 160 was launched by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe in conjunction with tobacco growers to boost tobacco production in the country.
Zimbabwe Tobacco Association (ZTA) chief executive officer Rodney Ambrose said funding for the programme came late.
He said to achieve high production in the 2005/6 season, there was need to pump money into the industry early.
Ambrose said for the country to produce a higher yield, there was need to rehabilitate the irrigation infrastructure.
At its peak, 40 000 hectares of tobacco was under irrigation and in the past season it was a paltry 7 500 hectares.
Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board general manager Stanley Mutepfa, speaking at the national exporters’ conference last year, said there was need for the provision of $85 billion for the rehabilitation of irrigation equipment.
Mutepfa said over $20 million was needed to put one hectare under crop.
Ambrose said putting the crop under irrigation would improve production as well as the quality of the crop.
One of the country’s largest foreign currency earners, tobacco production has been in a free-fall since the beginning of the chaotic land reform programme in 2000.
From a peak of 237 million kg in 1999, Zimbabwe produced a paltry 64 million kg last year.
Analysts said the new farmers did not have the financial resources to boost tobacco production. It is estimated that it costs over $20 million to plant a hectare.
In 2003, the golden leaf earned the country US$120 million, making it one of the country’s biggest single foreign currency earners, accounting for about 40% of hard currency inflows.
Zimbabwe sold 237 million kg worth US$400 million in 2000 before the government seized white-owned commercial farms for distribution to landless blacks.
Last year, tobacco sales brought in only US$190 million. Zimbabwe has grappled with an acute foreign currency crisis since the International Monetary Fund cut financial aid in 1999 and tobacco earnings began plummeting a year later.
Statistics from the ZTA show that at its peak, 85 000 hectares were under tobacco compared to 55 000 in the 2004/5 season.
A total of 76 000 hectares were under crop in large-scale commercial farms with a productivity rate of 2 500 kg per hectare while 9 000 hectares were under crop in small-scale commercial farms.
Ambrose said in the 2004/5 season, 25 000 ha was under crop in commercial farms and 30 000 ha in small-scale farms.