Quality of Zim’s tobacco crop falls

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ZIMBABWE’S tobacco crop dropped in quality in the just ended marketing season mainly due to the influx of close to 30 000 new farmers, industry experts say.

Taurai Mangudhla

The new farmers lack experience and contributed negatively to the overall crop quality Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board, (TIMB) technical services director Meanwell Gudu said.

Gudu said farmers should grow on both their yield and quality to increase their returns.

“We had almost 30 000 new growers who did not have what it takes to grow good quality tobacco, but that will not be for long because as TIMB and other partners we are out there educating farmers,” he said.

The marketing season ended last Friday with almost 50 million kg sold through auction, while the balance of more than 200 million kg was accounted for by contracts sale which continues until end of August.

In terms of prices, Gudu said the country’s tobacco sales fetched about 15% less value in 2014 compared to 2013 largely due to international market forces.

“The price for lower quality tobacco were lower last year, but prices were almost the same for good quality tobacco,” said Gudu, adding this is a result of a global oversupply of the poor quality leaf whilst good quality tobacco remains in short supply.

World flue cured tobacco production in 2014 is projected at 4 690 million kg, a slight decline from the 2013 production of 4721 million kg.

Boka Tobacco Auction Floors (BTAF) operations director Moses Bias said the season was generally good despite a growth in poor quality tobacco.

“The influx of more than 20 000 new growers is compromising on quality,” he said.

“At the beginning of the season you would see good quality tobacco being delivered and I think growers have realised that they should not just concentrate on quantity.”

Bias said prices were favorable at the beginning of the season but fell to unsustainable levels towards the end of the marketing season.
“For example someone who brought 10 bales in April would get US$4 500, but the same person could get US$1 900 this month. Maybe it was the demand and supply variables,” he said.

TIMB statistics for the season which ended June 27 after trading for 89 days show auction floors brought in 50,5 million kg at an average price of US$2,70/kg compared to 53,4 million kg after 99 days of sales, averaging US$3,54/kg prior year. Meanwhile clean up sales for flue-cured auction tobacco will be held on 15 July 2014.
TIMB said seasonal sales have so far surpassed the targeted volumes, with 204,4 million kg going under the hammer at an average price of US$3,17/kg.

During the same period last year 153,1 million kg of tobacco were sold averaging US$3,70/kg. The tobacco body said contracted tobacco for the 2014 season now accounts for more than 75% of total tobacco sales.

Indications, according to experts, are that most of the country’s tobacco production will continue to be sold under contract as growers are unable to fund their operations.

The farmers cannot afford costly inputs hence their option to go under contract growing, TIMB CEO Andrew Matibiri recently said.
“The ratio for auction and contract sales is now about 25-75% because very few farmers can afford to buy their own inputs,” he said in an interview.

“If there is funding from banks we can see that changing, but remember we have not been living in ordinary circumstances for a while and the same reasons that resulted in contract growing such as lack of funding and high costs of inputs still prevail.”
Matibiri said the board’s goal was to maintain the two marketing systems side by side.

Meanwhile, an African region International Tobacco Growers Association (ITGA) meeting held in Harare this week called on the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) to include tobacco growers in key decisions-making processes.

ITGA is fighting the proposed ban on tobacco.

“The message to WHO, if you want to regulate the sector you better start talking to the sector because we will not allow and stand back to have you make decisions from Geneva, Switzerland and other places, making decisions which will impact on the farmers in rural areas who provide a livelihood for the growers.

We do not know what’s going on yet the guidelines that they are going to propose are about growers because they want to regulate growers out of tobacco and we say no, that’s not going to happen,” ITGA president Francois Van Der Merwe Van Der Merwe said.

He also called on African farmers to produce a quality crop that competes well on the international market.

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