27 December 2012

Zimbabwe: More Turn to 'Golden Leaf'

ZIMBABWE'S tobacco sector is booming as more farmers have registered to grow the crop this season, figures from the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board show. As at November 23, about 63 000 had registered to grow tobacco during the 2012/13 season from about 34 000 who registered during the same period last year.

Communal and A1 farmers accounted for a total 83 percent of the number of registered growers while A2 and small-scale commercial farmers accounted for 17 percent.

Analysts say tobacco was giving better returns than other crops such as wheat, maize and cotton; the reason why many farmers are turning to the production of "golden leaf."

"Growing maize or wheat is no longer lucrative (and) the reason why people are now shifting from growing traditional crops such as maize and wheat to tobacco," said a Harare-based agricultural analyst yesterday.

"Farmers might also have been discouraged to grow cotton due to poor prices that prevailed last season."

Agricultural economist Mr Eric Mvududu said people were taking advantage of the viability of tobacco. He said the liberalised marketing system was also driving the expansion.

The country has seen a rebound in tobacco output, led by communal and A1 farmers, many, who got farms under the Government's land redistribution programme.

Tobacco output is estimated to increase by 18 percent next year to about 170 million kilogrammes.

But the projected output might be short of the target if the country does not receive good 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.

In an interview recently, TIMB chief executive Dr Andrew Matibiri said the 170 million kg was achievable assuming the country receive enough rains.

"It is very achievable judging from the amount allocated (to the agricultural sector). If the weather permits, things are looking good," said Dr Matibiri yesterday.

Tobacco Growers Trust, an organisation that represents farmers, was bullish about the prospects of the industry, saying the 170 million kg target could be surpassed.

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