The Sunday Mail
Natasha Kokai and Lisa Mhike
Zimbabwe is on the cusp of an epoch-making tobacco marketing season, as deliveries of the golden leaf that had been made by the end of last week, at 230 million kilogrammes, are 7 million kg shy of record deliveries made in 2000.
Statistics from the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) indicate that by Wednesday last week, farmers had delivered 230,4 million kilogrammes worth $673 million of the golden leaf, which represents a 34 percent leap from the 172 million kg worth $509 million realised in the same period a year earlier.
Overall, the deliveries so far are 21 percent more than the 189 million kg for the 2017 marketing season.
TIMB spokesperson Mr Isheunesu Moyo said the growth in deliveries is being driven by the Tobacco Input Credit Scheme, extension services and experience gained by farmers over time.
“There is increasing support from Government in the form of export incentives, which increased from 5 percent last season to 12,5 percent this season, as well as the Tobacco Input Credit Scheme, which has increased from $28 million in 2017 to $70 million this year.”
Most farmers, he added, were taking up the cash crop, which provides the best economic return per hectare among other crops in Zimbabwe, as it has proven to be very profitable.
“Tobacco farming is lucrative, hence the increase in farmers from 82 000 last year to over 145 000 this year,” said Mr Moyo.
Tobacco marketing, he said, had reached the tail-end of the season.
“The dates for the closure of the season is largely dependent on the deliveries, which have now dwindled to a million kg a day from a peak of about 7 million kg,” he said.
The jump in production of the golden leaf is symbolic as it would be the first time after the land reform programme for the country to realise record deliveries.
Government, through the land reform programme, redistributed 12,1 million hectares of land -about 31 percent of the prime agricultural land – which was previously in the hands of 3 500 white former commercial farmers and resettled over 276 600 households.
It is believed that over 91 percent of the land is now indigenised.
At peak production, tobacco farming employed about 50 percent of all the workers in commercial agriculture.
It was the country’s single largest foreign currency earner and accounted for a third of the country’s total exports.
Overall, it contributed 12 percent of national gross domestic product (GDP).
Notably, Zimbabwe’s tobacco exports once accounted for 20 percent of the world’s flue-cured tobacco, the main ingredient in cigarettes.
There has been a demonstrable increase in production from 58,5 million kg worth $175 million in 2009, 123,5 million kg ($356 million) in 2010 to 166,7 million kg worth $610 million in 2013.
Last year, the country earned $1,2 billion from the crop.