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Tobacco yields rebound

ZIMBABWE’S tobacco yields have been growing since 2008, according to figures obtained from the Tobacco Industry marketing board (TIMB).

Taurai Mangundhla

This comes after Boka Tobacco Floors CEO Rudo Boka recently told a tobacco growers’ field day in Rushinga the country’s tobacco yields were improving as more farmers gained experience and got access to technical and financial assistance.

Boka, however, said there was still need for farmers to maximise value by ensuring the quality of their crop through the use of right farming techniques and grading methods.

TIMB’s production and sales progress report for flue cured tobacco for the period 1975 to 2014 shows that the country’s yield slid from 1 339 kg per hectare in 2007 to 792kg per hactare in 2018 before picking up to 9434kg per hactare in 2009.

Benefits of a multiple currency regime that enabled farmers to invest were seen in 2010 when yields doubled from 2009 to close 2010 at 1 842kg per hectare before slowing down marginally in 2011 to 1 689kg/hectare.

In 2012, yields grew marginally to 1 893kg per hactare before retreating slightly to 1852kg per hectare in 2013. In 2014, they beat the 2 000kg per hectare mark to close the season at 2 014kg/ha.

Despite the growth, yields remain lower than peak levels of 2 792 and 2 666kg per hectare recorded in 2000 and 1995 respectively.

This however brings confidence that the tobacco industry is growing to levels of its yesteryear glory when yields averaged more than 2 000kg/ha between 1980 and 2002 before dropping drastically around 2004 and 2006 as displacement of a chaotic fast track land reform programme of 2000 took a toll on agriculture. The country lost thousands of experienced commercial farmers due to the land reform programme.

Although Zimbabwe’s flue cured tobacco yields recorded a good run between 1980 and 2000, prices have only started rising since 2007.

The average price of flue cured tobacco closed the 2014 marketing season at US$3,17/kg down from US$3,67 per kg in 2013 and US$3,65/kg in 2012.

In 2009, flue cured tobacco prices averaged US$2,98/kg before dropping slightly to US$2,88/kg in 2012 and further retreating US$2,73/kg in 2011.

Sales peaked in 2000 at 236,9 million kg before plummeting to 81,8 million kg in 2003 and reaching lowest levels in 45 years in 2008 where the total mass sold was 48,8 million kg.

The mass sold improved from 58,5 million kg in 2009 to 123,5 million in 2009 and 132,4 million in 2010. In 2011, 132,4 million kg of flue cured tobacco were sold while 144,6 and 166,6 million kg of tobacco were sold in 2012 and 2013 respectively. In 2014, the country sold 21,2 million kg of flue cured tobacco as more growers started producing the crop due to prevailing favorable prices of the golden leaf on the international market compared to grain crops and cereals.

In 2014, Zimbabwe registered 87 166 growers for flue cured tobacco on 107 371 ha of land, up from 78 756 growers the previous year. In 2000, the country had 8537 registered growers for the golden leaf on a total 84 857 ha of land.

The country exported 135 528 metric tonnes valued at US$772,6 million in 2014, down from 153 350 metric tonnes valued at US$877,5 million prior year.

TIMB chair Monica Chinamasa said while production has shown a further increase for the sixth consecutive year and that Zimbabwean flue-cured tobacco is a high quality product, there are market limits for its demand depending on prevailing market forces.

“Thus, to survive under the unpredictable market conditions, farmers must focus their control on variables such as quality, costs and efficiencies,” she said in the company’s 2014 annual report.

Chinamasa said the country needs more investments in cigarette manufacturing so as to realise more revenue from exports of cigarettes rather than exporting semi processed leaf which is tantamount to exporting jobs.

“Similarly, more innovation is needed in creating value from other tobacco derivatives such as stems and fines which can be incorporated into cigarette blends hence creating more value,” she added.

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