By Rumbidzayi Zinyuke
Manicaland Province has registered an 8,3 percent increase in the hectarage put under tobacco in the 2017-18 summer cropping season, despite the recent mid-season drought.
Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) statistics show that 21 302 hectares had been put under the golden leaf as at January 31 compared to 19 677 hectares planted during the same period last season.
Recent rains have failed to salvage most crops that succumbed to moisture stress in the province. Farmers of the rain-fed tobacco crop have been reporting stunted growth and false ripening.
According to TIMB, the hectarage under the rain-fed crop had risen to 19 684 hectares from 17 363ha last season. Conversely, there was a 30 percent decline in the area put under irrigation to 1 618ha from 2 314ha in the prior period.
Manicaland and Mashonaland East provinces were the only provinces to record an increase in the area under tobacco, as farmers in most areas had stopped planting more crops in response to the dry spell.
Mashonaland East registered a slight increase in the hectarage under the golden leaf from 17 920ha last year to 18 674ha in the period under review. Mashonaland Central had a 14 percent decline to 29 117ha from 33 316ha.
In Mashonaland West, the hectarage fell 11 percent from 39 333ha last year to 34 956ha. Midlands, Masvingo and Matabeleland South provinces recorded the least number of hectares under the golden leaf at 298ha, 48ha and two hectares in that order.
According the TIMB bulletin, the total number of registered tobacco growers has gone up to 118 048 as at February 8, 2017, from 82 183 in the same period last season. Manicaland registered a 73 percent rise in registered growers to 18 354, while Mashonaland Central had 42 195 registered growers.
Mashonaland West and Mashonaland East had 42 197 and 14 836 growers, respectively. Previously, a preserve for commercial farmers, tobacco has become an attractive source of livelihood for most of Zimbabwe’s communal and small-scale farmers.
Tobacco export earnings have been growing over the years from $772, 6 million in 2014, rising to $855 million in 2015. Revenue further grew to $933,3 million last year and this year, it is forecast to soar to $980 million.