Patrick Chitumba, Midlands Bureau Chief
THThereas been a surge in the number of farmers growing the crop amid indications that over 100 000 farmers were this season contracted to grow tobacco compared to just over 69 000 last season.
The 2023 tobacco selling season was officially opened on Wednesday last week in a development that is expected to boost the country’s foreign currency earnings.
Tobacco prices opened at US$4.35 at the start of the new marketing season, up from US$4.20 last year. This year’s season opened much earlier so that farmers wrap up trading on time due to general elections set to be held later in the year. Last year the selling season kicked off on March 30 and closed on October 21.
An estimated 8,5 percent growth in tobacco output of 230 million kilogrammes is expected this year, compared to 212 million kilogrammes last year.
The trend is being cited as a reflection of increased interest by small and large-scale growers in venturing into the capital-intensive, but viable tobacco-growing industry.
The Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) is anticipating increased business activities during this year’s marketing season.
The golden leaf is also one of Zimbabwe’s top foreign-currency earners, accounting for about 12 percent of the nation’s economic output.
In an interview yesterday TIMB public affairs officer, Mrs Chelesani Tsarwe, said an appetite for growing tobacco among farmers in on the increase.
“As of 09 March 2023, the TIMB database has 107 636 contracted tobacco growers as compared to 69 416 contracted growers during the same period last year,” she said.
Mrs Tsarwe said an exciting development confirmed by authorities ahead of the season’s commencement is that tobacco growers will receive 85 percent of their earnings in US$ this year, up from 75 percent stipulated last year.
The remainder, she said, will be distributed in local currency.
“Tobacco growers will be getting 85 percent of their sales proceeds in US dollars while 15 percent is paid in local currency at prevailing bank rate,” she said.
Mrs Tsarwe said the 2023 tobacco marketing season will be open for as long as tobacco growers still have tobacco and are delivering it to sales floors.
In 2018, tobacco production reached 252 million kilogrammes, the highest in Zimbabwe’s 121-year history of commercial growing, according to TIMB.
The crop provides the highest economic return for each hectare among all the major annual crops grown in the country, says the association.
Tobacco is critical to economic growth as central bank data shows that the commodity accounted for a huge proportion of more than US$11 billion in foreign receipts last year.
The crop is a major foreign currency earner for the economy and market anticipation is that this year the country will generate much more.
The season coincides with Government policy banning the crop’s side marketing as enunciated under Statutory Instrument 77 of 2022.
This year, TIMB has licensed the Premier Tobacco Auction Floor and the Boka Tobacco Floors to auction tobacco this season.
About 160,000 farmers grow tobacco in Zimbabwe, which is then exported to 60 countries. Zimbabwe is currently implementing a “Tobacco Value Chain Transformation Plan”, which seeks to increase tobacco production and local processing and curb the export of unprocessed tobacco.