The 2018 tobacco season started yesterday with Acting President Retired General Constantino Chiwenga indicating that tobacco will now be covered under the Command Agriculture Programme. "I am elated to report that Government has extended the Tobacco Contract Model to the same category, Special Maize Production programme commonly known as Command Agriculture, which recently has been extended to cover wheat, soya beans, livestock, fisheries and wildlife production," said Acting President Chiwenga while officially opening the season at Tobacco Sales Floors yesterday.
"Government is aware of the liquidity challenges facing the country, which invariably affect efforts towards optimum production capacities. That being the case, Government through the Reserve Bank is committed to coming up with policy interventions that will support the entire sector. This will buttress the already existing export incentives and finance to ensure access to affordable inputs by farmers," he said.
The Acting President said tobacco had earned a strategic position in the Zimbabwean economy because of its contribution to the Gross Domestic Product and foreign currency earnings.
He said, more than three million people depended on the industry for their livelihoods, hence Government would continue to support the sector.
"The tobacco sector, therefore, presents many opportunities for both local and foreign direct investors. This is in line with His Excellency the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe Cde E.D. Mnangagwa's clarion call that "Zimbabwe is open for Business," he said.
He commended contractors for funding tobacco production and enabling farmers to improve on the quality of the crop.
"Government appreciates the coming on board of the tobacco contracting companies where they financed 82 percent of the crop in 2017/18 agricultural season.
"While we are enthused with these milestones in the industry, Government urges farmers to continuously device mechanisms to improve on the quality of the crop as this will increase the value and profits to farmers.
"More efforts should now be directed towards eradicating side marketing of the crop, which prejudices the entire tobacco industry value chain," he said.
He urged the tobacco sector to venture into value addition as enunciated in the country's economic blueprint, Zim-Asset.
Value addition, Acting President said would create jobs in the processing industries and also increase income from tobacco.
"Currently 98 percent of all tobacco production is exported. Tobacco processing is partially being done by merchant companies, who remove stems and tips from the leaf before it is shipped abroad. This adds a mere 30 to 50 percent to the crops final export value.
"The country will also benefit from by products such as pesticide and hair oils and this will assist in reducing the unsustainable import bill through import substitution," he said.
TIMB chairperson Mrs Monica Chinamasa urged farmers to invest in irrigation infrastructure to cushion farmers from erratic rainfall patterns.
"We are gathered here to witness the start of 2018 tobacco marketing season whose crop before us was grown under two extremities of weather characterised by delayed rains in the first half of the season and excessive rainfall in the second half of the season.
"The delayed rains in the first half have reaffirmed the need to invest more in irrigation development to mitigate against the vagaries of climate change," she said.
Mrs Chinamasa advised farmers to adhere to the legislated tobacco calendar as provided for by the Plant Pests and Diseases Act to reduce the spread of pests and diseases.
She advised farmers to remain calm throughout the marketing season and not to disrupt sales even if they were disgruntled.
"The industry has tried and tested structures and procedures for resolving any disagreements and conflicts. TIMB officials will be attending to any disputes at auction floors," she said. Meanwhile, the first bale to go on sale was bought for $4,90 per kilogramme.
The opening ceremony was witnessed by Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement Minister Retired Air Chief Marshal Perrance Shiri, Deputy Chief Secretary in the Office of the President and Cabinet Retired Colonel Christian Katsande and Chinese Ambassador Mr Huang Ping and other stakeholders in the tobacco industry.
Contract sales will open today. TIMB has licensed three auction floors for the 2018 marketing season and these are Tobacco Sales Floor (TSF), Boka Tobacco Floors (BTF) and Premier Tobacco Auction Floor (PTAF). The Board also licensed 29 and 23 A class and contract buyers, respectively.