Good, big tobacco crop expected – TIMB

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Harare(New Ziana) – In spite of weather-related challenges facing the current farming season, tobacco output is expected to remain at last year’s levels when the country had ideal agricultural rains, a top industry executive said on Wednesday.

Tobacco Industry Marketing Board (TIMB) chief executive officer, Meanwell Gudu said late, incessant rains had affected tobacco farming this season, as had factors such as hailstorms and high costs for inputs.

But, in spite of this, he said the country expected a crop of about 200 million kilogrammes, the same as last year’s output.

In terms of crop quality, Gudu said this was ‘generally good’ and would be able to fetch top prices when the marketing season opens next month.

“The rains came late, and were incessant in some areas that it affected the crop. But generally we have a good crop,” he said.

Hailstorms hit some tobacco growing areas, but the affected crop is not so big to change the output estimates for the year.

Tobacco is the country’s biggest agricultural export, and second largest single commodity export after gold, raking in around US$800 million last year.

Gudu said a slight drought in Brazil, a major competitor of Zimbabwe in the global tobacco market, will likely help push up demand and prices for the local crop.

But the advantages, especially of firm prices, are offset by high production costs in the country, particularly of key inputs such as fertiliser.

Gudu said ensuring farmer viability is a challenge that needed collective attention by all stakeholders, particularly the government.

Otherwise, he noted, the gains achieved in the industry over the last two decades, notably diversifying the grower base, and increasing output substantially, might be lost.

Tobacco output has grown from 48 million kilogrammes in 2008 to over 200 million kilogrammes now, and the bulk of this is accounted for by small scale resettled farmers.

Gudu said the industry regulator’s plan was to increase this further to 300 million kilogrammes by 2025, mainly through expanding irrigation.

Currently, only 18 percent of the crop is grown under irrigation, and the intention is to expand this to at least 40 percent.

But the success in increasing tobacco output had come at a huge environmental cost, Gudu said.

It led to massive deforestation, especially in resettled farms, which TIMB and other concerned stakeholder were keenly trying to grapple with through promotion of use of fuel efficient tobacco curing barns, and renewable energy sources.

New Ziana

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