Tobacco season under threat

Cloudine Matola/Chipa Gonditii

ZIMBABWE’S prospects for a successful 2019/20 tobacco season have been dealt a massive blow after tobacco seedlings and horticultural crops were affected by frost which hit most parts of the country last week, businessdigest has learnt.

The sector is also reeling from unexpected weather patterns, high price of inputs and excessive taxation. Tobacco is one of the biggest foreign currency earners and these challenges could spell further doom to a country that is already facing serious forex shortages.

Statistics from the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board show that production increased in 2018 to 240 million kg, up from 189 million kg the previous year.

Zimbabwe National Farmers’ Union (ZNFU) chief executive Edward Dune said the unexpected changes in weather affected tobacco seedlings and that the total production will be less this season.

“It’s also very funny indeed that we have the brutal brunt of weather vagaries. Imagine having frost hitting in mid-September. We have had lots of tobacco
seedlings and horticultural crops hard hit by frost this week.

“We have generally reduced tobacco hectarages with a view to improving on quality due to the anticipated level of producer concentration,” he said.

Dune said the high costs of inputs and excessive taxation have affected the viability of farming in the country.

“Inputs costs have indeed skyrocketed to unprecedented and unsustainable levels. This renders farming to be unviable and the farming fraternity is
uncomfortable and cannot afford to continue accept this scenario which has made it very difficult to plan in farming businesses,” Dune said.

“Farmers’ incomes are also eroded by excessive taxation. These include land rentals payable to Ministry of Lands and development levy payable to Local Government through Rural District Council (RDC), 11% RDC levy on cattle sales, 10 % withholding tax and the recent 2% tax through mobile transactions. This list goes on and we are in the process to lobby Government to exempt farmers from some of these taxes and levies.”

Dune added that the ZNFU was also embarking on an exercise to educate its members to produce exportable commodities with the aim of increasing its visibility
on the market and facilitating foreign currency generation to improve the standards of living of its members this coming season.

The union has of late been addressing the issues brought about by the volatility of the economy due to inflation through scouting markets for exportable commodities. Year-on-year inflation is estimated to have reached 230,41% as of July 2019.

Zimbabwe has an agro-based an economy and the erratic rainfall witnessed this past farming season worsened the already paralysed economy.

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