ZIMBABWE'S tobacco output is estimated to rise by 18 percent next year to 170 million kilogrammes, Finance Minister Tendai Biti has said. "With regards to tobacco, output is projected to rise from 144
million kg in 2012 to 170 million kg in 2013 in view of the increase in the number of registered tobacco growers now estimated at 56 431 from 19 975 who had registered by deadline of 30 September (2012)," said Minister Biti.
"Similarly, in preparation for a better output season, a target of 85 000 hectares in 2012/13 is planned, up from 82 000 hectares in 2011/2012."
But the projected output might be short of the target if the country does not receive good rains. Minister Biti forecast the economy would grow 5 percent next year, largely driven by mining and a good farming season, but warned the target might not be achieved if the country gets below normal rains.
Tobacco was once the country's largest foreign currency earner, but production declined from a peak of 236 million kg in 2000 to 48 million kg in 2008.
The rebound in tobacco production was led by small scale farmers and the majority of them were given land under the Government land reform programme.
Tobacco Industry and Marking Board chief executive Dr Andrew Matibiri said the 170 million kg was achievable assuming the country receives enough rains.
He said the money allocated for the agricultural sector for the coming season was also reasonable while the number of registered tobacco farmers has grown.
"It is very achievable judging from the amount allocated (to the agricultural sector). If the weather permits, things are looking good," said Dr Matibiri. Minister Biti allocated nearly US$160 million for the 2013 farming season.
Tobacco Growers Trust, an organisation that represents farmers was bullish about the prospects of the industry, saying the 170 million target was "conservative."
"We can do more than that . . . and judging by the level of farming on the ground, we can do more," said Mr Lovegot Tendengu, a director of the trust.
Tobacco farming used to be a preserve of a few white farmers until the beginning of the last decade when Government embarked on land reform programme.
Harare economist Mr Rongi Chizema said in an interview it was possible to reach the 170 million kg target next year in view of the increased hectarage being planted.