ZIMBABWE - Zimbabwe tobacco farmers have so far earned $565 million from the sale of 192 million kilogrammes of the golden leaf, a development that is expected to ease liquidity crisis in the country.
Latest statistics from the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB), however, show that sales on day 98 were down 16 percent from $663 million realised in the same period last year from the sale of 209 million kg.
This comes as the current tobacco marketing season officially ended last week with mop-up sales expected early next month.
The tobacco regulatory authority said farmers who sold 46,5 million kg of the commodity at Boka, Premier and Tobacco Sales auctions received $113 million while contract farmers earned $452 million from 145 million kg.
Tobacco prices have also remained depressed at an average of $2,94 per kg this season compared to around $3,17 last year, declining by 7,24 percent.
Andrew Matibiri, TIMB chief executive, recently indicated that the country would not surpass last year’s figure of 216 million kg due to harsh weather conditions experienced early this year.
The 2014/15 marketing season, which began in March, has seen a number of farmers complaining of the low prices offered especially at the auction floors while merchants have been complaining of low quality crop.
However, experts say some farmers lacked knowledge on production and presentation of the crop and were not up to date with market requirements.
Zimbabwean farmers have since 2009 been increasingly engaged in tobacco farming due to its favourable prices compared to cotton and maize prices.
In the 2014/15 season more than 106 000 growers registered as compared to 88 444 last year.
Out of the registered growers, 26 816 are new growers. Of these more than 1 000 are new growers from Masvingo, Midlands and Matabeleland North, areas which were previously non-traditional tobacco growing areas.
At least 220 million kg is expected to be sold this year up from 216 million kg earning the country nearly $600 million. However, agriculture experts believe that the heavy rains the country received in January and February greatly compromised both the quality and quantity of tobacco.
They estimate that a yield of one-and-a-half to two tonnes per hectare has to be reviewed downwards.
At the peak of output, the country produced 236 million kg of tobacco, which is commonly referred to as the golden leaf locally and is grown mainly by small-scale farmers.
Prior the land reform programmed led by President Robert Mugabe, which began in 2000, the country grew most of its tobacco on large commercial farms.
Zimbabwe traditionally competes with countries including Brazil and the United States as a key source of the top-quality variety of the crop known as flue-cured tobacco.