The Sunday Mail
Elita Chikwati and Brenda Ziga
THE tobacco auction floors opened on a high note yesterday with the first bale fetching $4,50 per kg, which is an increase of 21 percent on last season’s opening price of $3,50, raising hopes the lucrative crop will generate millions of dollars in foreign currency and put smiles on the faces of thousands of farmers.
Although volumes of tobacco are expected to be lower this year due to the El Nino-induced drought, farmers are optimistic their earnings will be higher than the previous seasons as buyers compete for the high quality but scarce commodity.
If the expected 160 million kg is auctioned at an average price of $4,50 per kg, then farmers are likely to pocket over $700 million compared to the $580 million they earned from selling 198 million kg last season.
However, as usual, scrap tobacco fetched low prices as little as $0,11 cents per kg yesterday while those who brought good quality tobacco pocketed as much as $4,50 per kg.
Farmers expressed mixed reactions to the prices offered by buyers, with those with low quality crop complaining and threatening to withdraw it while the ones who got good prices celebrated.
Officially opening the marketing season at the Tobacco Sales Floor yesterday, the Minister of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Dr Joseph Made, said tobacco merchants were this season likely to pay fair prices for the crop that would enable farmers to have sustainable income to take them back to the field.
“Government views tobacco as an anchor crop for the economic empowerment of our farmers and as an engine for rural development. Every year, at this time, tobacco farmers after having toiled for over 12 months look forward to getting a just reward for their efforts.
“It is therefore expected that tobacco merchants will pay fair prices for the tobacco to enable farmers to have sustainable returns. The expectation is that buyers will match quality tobacco with high prices at both auction and contract floors. Farmers deserve better prices for them to re-invest in tobacco production this coming season,” he said.