The new tobacco selling season opened yesterday with Government hoping that the industry cannot just survive at present levels but raise production to 300 million kilogrammes annually through the implementation of the Tobacco Value Chain Transformation Strategy.
The selling season was opened by Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Resettlement Minister Dr Anxious Masuka at the Tobacco Sales Floor in a function witnessed by Deputy Minister Douglas Karoro, Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board chairman Mr Pat Devenish and chief executive officer Dr Andrew Matibiri, Tobacco Research Board chief executive Dr Dahlia Garwe, farmers’ union leaders and farmers.
As was the case last year, sales will run under the strict Covid-19 guidelines developed by the tobacco industry with guidance from Agriculture and Health Ministries.
This year the first bale fetched US$4,30 a kilogramme compared to an opening price of US$4/kg last year, a rise of 7,5 percent which brought hopes to farmers that this year “will be better”.
All three auction floors — Tobacco Sales Floor, Boka Tobacco Floors and Premier Tobacco Floors — conducted sales and said they were expecting deliveries to intensify over the next few days.
TIMB licensed 28 A class buyers and 39 contract buyers for this season. The bulk of the crop is grown under contract with farmers delivering to their contractor, rather than the auction floors, but auction prices help to determine the final contract price.
The board has also approved decentralised contract floors in Karoi, Mvurwi, Bindura, Marondera and Rusape.
Addressing stakeholders and farmers yesterday, Dr Masuka said the ministry co-ordinated the development of a Tobacco Value Chain Transformation Strategy to eliminate challenges facing the sector.
“The strategy enables the intensification of tobacco production by enhancing transparency and fair tobacco marketing, reform, restructuring and rebuilding of existing institutions to optimise tobacco value chain financing.
“The strategy also seeks to promote value addition and to facilitate the production of alternative crops to tobacco to diversify revenues and assure industry sustainability in the face of climate change and anti-tobacco campaigns,” he said.
He said TIMB should develop a robust tobacco-information management system that includes all data from growing units to markets. This would analyse trends and proffer advice on needed policy interventions for a sustained growth of the industry.
“TIMB should transform the tobacco value chain to a US$5 billion industry by 2025. As part of agriculture transformation, my ministry envisions transforming 18 000 A2 farmers to become agricultural entrepreneurs and 360 000 A1 farmers to become viable and formal small-to-medium enterprises by 2025, focusing on upskilling their activities,” he said.
Dr Masuka urged the industry to promote sustainable tobacco production through the use of renewable energy sources and improved curing technologies, including planting more trees for firewood and curing tobacco.
Mr Devenish said the tobacco industry and the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe had jointly put in place improved payment measures to ensure tobacco growers get full value for their crop and were simultaneously paid within the shortest possible time.
Growers are this year getting 60 percent of their money in foreign currency while 40 percent will be converted at the prevailing auction exchange rate on the day of sale and paid in local currency.
“I urge all growers to abide by the marketing regulations that include submitting production estimates and registrations on time, to use TIMB registered transporters and also to refrain from dealing with unscrupulous individuals at the floors,” he said.
Tobacco Association of Zimbabwe president Mr George Seremwe said the season had started fairly well but urged farmers to bring lower leaf as the leaf had not fetched prices as high as anticipated,” he said.
Zimbabwe Leaf Tobacco Leaf director, Mr Agrippa Bganya said there had been an improvement on the quality of tobacco offered.
“There is a lot more tobacco to come. So far the signs are exciting and good for farmers,” he said.
Boka Tobacco Floors managing director, Mrs Chido Nyakudya said she was happy with the prices on the first day.
“We had low volumes of tobacco today because we have opened up contract floors in Karoi, Mvurwi and Rusape. The prices so far are fair but we always want to see our farmers getting higher returns,” she said.
Premier Tobacco Floors executive director Mr Owen Murambi said they had registered an increase in the number of bales on the first day.
“The crop was affected by excessive rain but we expect prices to improve as the season progresses.
“We have implemented all the Covid-19 regulations and no farmers will be staying at the floors,” he said.
This year’s crop was grown in wet weather conditions which, while giving potential for better quality also saw some nutrient leaching and incidences of some bacterial diseases. But the general quality has been commended by stakeholders.
The tobacco hectarage went up by six percent from last year’s 117 000 hectares to 125 000 hectares this season.
About 200 million kilogrammes of tobacco are expected this season. Last year farmers sold 186 million kg.