29 January 2013

Zimbabwe: Farmers Hope for Better Tobacco Prices

Stakeholders in the tobacco industry expect this year's tobacco prices to be higher than last year's arguing that the quality has vastly improved while yields have dropped creating more demand.

Zimbabwe Farmers Union second vice president Mr Berean Mukwende said the quality of this season's crop was much better than last year's.

He said most farmers had since gained a lot of experience in both the agronomy and curing of the crop.

"Most farmers now have the technical knowledge critical in tobacco farming and have produced very good crops despite doing so late or facing challenges from the incessant rains," said Mr Mukwende.

"We expect the price to be US$5 and above for a kilogramme of the golden leaf. Last season there was a price ceiling that saw prices failing to go beyond US$4, 99 per kilogramme at the auction floors while the contract floors were the only ones that beat the US$5 mark. We want prices that allow farmers to achieve parity after marketing."

He said tobacco production costs per hectare were ranging between US$1 500 and US$1 800 making it critical for farmers to get good prices to make up for the low yields per hectare that most of them score.

"The farmers need a good deal. The Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board and the Agricultural Marketing Authority should look into such matters. The authority must not leave farmers at the mercy of unscrupulous buyers who work in cartels. Tobacco is the only crop that is giving farmers a comparative advantage at the moment."

TIMB, he said, should also look at how farmers were benefiting in the value chain. "Buyers are benefiting more than the farmers in all instances, which is not fair," said Mr Mukwende.

"Countries like Brazil last year paid their farmers as much as US$10 per kilogramme yet their tobacco is not any different from what farmers here are producing."

He said input prices had risen over the past seasons making it expensive to produce a hectare of tobacco.The Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union, however, thinks differently.

The tobacco quality has gone down because of the incessant rains that have caused excessive leaching and sometimes water logging, ZCFU president, Mr Wonder Chabikwa has argued.

He said the incessant rains had induced heavy leaching in many areas while water logging was also a serious challenge. Tobacco dies if it stays in water logged soils for more than 48 hours.

"The incessant rains have caused false ripening and yellowing of the tobacco crop heavily compromising the quality, which means that farmers may not expect to earn much.

"The yields are also expected to drop by 40 percent because of the rains and the late planting by many farmers," said Mr Chabikwa.

He said tobacco farmers in Manicaland, Mashonaland East and West provinces were among some of the worst affected by the incessant rains something that is dampening their prospects of high yields.

The TIMB recently announced that the tobacco season would start on February 13 and was in the process of licensing buyers.

The country set a target of 170 million kilogrammes of tobacco this year

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