A total of 85 360 farmers have so far registered for the 2014 tobacco selling season compared to about 65 000 recorded in the same period last year, the Tobacco Industry Marketing Board (TIMB) has said.
The sharp increase points to a cumulative trend where more communal and A1 resettled farmers have been taking to growing the crop over the years spurred by the good returns compared to others crops like maize.
Communal and A1 resettled farmers already constitute 82% of the total registered farmers.
TIMB board chairperson, Monica Chinamasa attributed the increase in the number of tobacco farmers to the lucrative cash payments that come with selling the crop.
"That is the only sector which is presently paying farmers well. Maize is associated with delayed payments and low prices while cotton is even worse," said Chinamasa.
"Secondly, tobacco has a ready market. Every farmer wants to grow something which they can sell."
Funding continues to be a major challenge for farmers, as the liquidity crunch and to a larger extent lack of clarity surrounding 99-year land leases continue to deter banks from funding the sector.
The Commercial Farmers' Union (CFU) has continued to advocate for the introduction of individual title deeds to be used as bankable instruments to finance new farmers' operations.
Consequently, the shortage of liquidity affecting the financial sector and attractive contract prices has pushed more growers to opt for contract farming, among other reasons.
Contractors or merchants include Northern, MTC, ZLT and Tian Ze among others with 47% of the tobacco heading for the Far East last year.
"The contract system continued to dominate over the auction system as evidenced by a gain in market share from 64% achieved in 2012 to the current 68% of total tobacco output.
Average selling prices at contract sales were generally higher than auction prices. The highest price achieved at contract sales recorded US$5,90 per kg," the TIMB said.
The contracted crop production increased to 113 million kgs and was sold at an average price of US$3,74 per kg.
The last season recorded 92,4 million kg at an average price of US$3,72 per kg.
According to the TIMB, the total number of registered growers in 2013 increased to 91 278 compared to about 72 500 who registered in 2012.
The number of contracted growers were 34 280 up from 24 637 recorded in 2012.
Non-contracted growers were 44 476 for the 2013 season compared to 35 410 growers recorded in 2012.
The season closed after 141 days of sales, four days shorter than the number of selling days in 2012.
Total official production of flue-cured tobacco amounted to 166,6 million kgs, translating to a 16% increase in both volume and value.
The 2014 tobacco marketing season commences on the February 19 with contract sales starting a day later.