Tobacco: History in the making …second highest ever production

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THE Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) has said tobacco sales have hit 200 million kilogrammes targeted for the 2018 marketing season with expectations high that the volumes will go up to 220 million kg by the end of the marketing season.
As farmers continue to deliver their golden leaf, a revised target of 220 million kg has been set with expectations high it would be achieved.
Tobacco farmers have so far raked in about US$600 million in foreign currency with the crop expected to bring in about US$1,5 billion in foreign currency earnings.
Traditionally, the marketing of tobacco starts in February, however, the past seasons it has been starting in March.
The tobacco cycle starts in June when farmers prepare their seedbeds, in September planting begins mainly for farmers who irrigate their crop and runs to selling of the crop in February.
Most people have taken up tobacco production, given its lucrative returns.
Zimbabwe Progressive Tobacco Farmers Association president Mutandwa Mutasa described the marketing season as fruitful.
“Generally, the season has been surprisingly good, given the downward forecast emanating from the prolonged dry spell experienced during the peak period of the season coupled with the emergence of the potato-virus syndrome (PVY),” he said.
“We are on course to record the second highest ever production in Zimbabwean history.”
Mutasa urged stakeholders to continue supporting smallholder farmers.
“We still need to help smallholder farmers who constitute more than 80 percent of the crop farmers, to be capitalised in order to improve the crop quality,” he said.
“The legislature needs to support these farmers by setting up irrigation schemes and to push for the use of drip irrigation schemes as being done by the industry regulator TIMB.
“Dams, boreholes and such infrastructure should be developed to give access and chance to these farmers to produce either an irrigated crop or an early planted crop to improve quality.”
Mutandwa commended Government for initiating Command Tobacco.
Production of tobacco in the 2018/19 season is set to treble as Government has increased the tobacco funding package from US$24 million to US$78 million.
Distribution of the tobacco inputs has already started, with farmers accessing them through TIMB.
“The introduction, by Government, of Command Tobacco should be applauded as a major step to address poverty and improve sustainability to these farmers,” said Mutandwa.
“Government should be commended on raising the retention fund threshold to 12,5 percent, up from five percent, as an incentive to the farmer as this will go a long way in encouraging farmers to grow the crop and also to control side marketing of the crop by the farmer as he/she protects the extra earnings.”
Mutasa said efforts should continue to be made to ensure local farmers fully benefit from growing the crop.
“Money supply should be improved at banks to cut out queues and further delays to farmers at the auction floors,” he said.
“Of concern to the industry is that the Zimbabwe product is highly sought after but surprisingly, we are only a billion dollar industry in a US$600 billion global industry.
“Checks and balances need to be made for far away markets.
“Government needs to initiate programmes that enhance beneficiation of the crop.”
Land preparation is now underway amid hopes of an increased hectarage to be put under tobacco.
There was a marked increase in tobacco planted during the 2017/2018 cropping season compared to the previous one.
According to TIMB, at least 42 283 ha has been planted countrywide, indicating a 0,9 percent increase from the 41 496 ha planted during the same period the previous season.
Manicaland Province had the largest hectarage under flue-cured tobacco at 12 703 ha.
The bulk of the hectarage (27 885 ha) was under dry land while 14 398 ha was under irrigation.
Tobacco registrations for the 2017/18 season rose by 37 percent to 100 723 from 73 685 last season.
This season, the number of new growers increased from 14 841 last season to
33 307.
Tobacco, which is the country’s highest foreign currency earner followed by gold, has continued to fare well.
During the 2017 marketing season, farmers sold 189 million kg of flue-cured tobacco, with contract farmers contributing most of the deliveries at 158 million kg, while self-financed farmers weighed in with 31 million kg.

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