Tobacco output is this year projected at 200 million kg despite concerns that heavy rains could militate against a better yield.
By Fidelity Mhlanga
Zimbabwe Tobacco Association chief executive officer Rodney Ambrose said the crop will perform notwithstanding the dangers of excessive rainfall and associated plant diseases.
Tobacco is the country’s second largest foreign currency earner.
“We anticipate an estimated output of 200 million kg depending on how long the wet spell will take. The rainfall can bring more diseases to the crop but I am sure farmers are trained to handle the situation,” Ambrose said.
“Eastern districts such as Macheke and Headlands area and some areas in Mashonaland West and Mashonaland Central have been experiencing a consistent wet spell. We have not finished the crop assessment and we will see at the end of January if any losses have taken place due to excess rain.”
Ambrose said he was optimistic the crop would attract a better price, saying lower quality leaf will attract a poorer price than middle and upper leaf crop whose prices will be predictably firm.
Tobacco Industry Marketing Board public relations manager Isheunesu Moyo weighed in, saying a shortage of ammoniun nitrate fertiliser on the market was causing leaching of nutrients with some farmers losing their crop.
“Excessive rains lead to leaching of nutrients, particularly nitrogen. The problem was exacerbated by shortage of ammonium nitrate on the market. The central bank has intervened by allocating foreign currency to fertiliser manufacturers and we hope the situation will get better. Farmers who did not make good ridges are losing crop due to sheet floods,” Moyo said.
He said shortlisting of merchants was underway, adding that so far eight class-A buyers and nine contractors have been licenced ahead of the opening of marketing season.
“It is an ongoing process to be completed early February. Due to the holidays, all documents required for licences were not availed in time for the board meeting. However, eight class-A buyers and nine contractors fully complied with the requirements and were licensed,” he said.
Moyo added that there were some isolated incidences where cases of poorly constructed barns collapsed.
Stakeholders will decide on the tobacco season opening dates amid indications the crop would be ready for sale by early February.
Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) statistics show that as of December 29,164,5 million kg of tobacco valued at US$933,6 million has been exported to various destinations across the globe.
Figures from the TIMB also show that as of January 5, tobacco area planted for the 2016/17 season stands at 91 805 hectares from 87,755 hectares last season.
While tobacco production has been improving it has not eclipsed a record high of 236,13 million kg marked in year 2000 .
In 2001, a total of 202,5 million kg was sold. The decline continued in 2003 to 2005 when 81,8 million kg, 69,1 million kg and 73,3 million kg were respectively sold. In 2006, 55,5 million kg were sold while only 73, 5 million kg were delivered in 2007.
In 2010, 123,5 million kg of tobacco worth US$355,7 million went under the hammer.
The figures surged to 132,5 million kg as tobacco valued at US$361,5 million was sold in 2011.
In 2012, 144,5 million kg valued US$540 million increasing to 166,7 million kg worth US$610 million in 2013.
As the appetite for growing the crop increased, in 2014, 216,2 million kg of the crop was sold, realising US$685,2 million.
In 2015, tobacco output was 199 million kg raking in US$867 million.