Zimbabwe’s tobacco marketing season will be delayed this year due to late planting resulting from late rains, according to the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board chief executive Dr Andrew Matibiri.
Tobacco is the country’s largest foreign currency earner. The country’s foreign currency situation normally improves during the tobacco marketing season.
With Zimbabwe experiencing crippling foreign currency shortages, which has seen the country struggling to import adequate essential commodities such as fuel and medical drugs, inflows from the crop will improve the situation.
The dry spell, which most parts of the country experienced since the beginning of rainy season, saw many farmers planting several weeks after normal time, Dr Matibiri said.
The normal tobacco planting time is between September 1 and December 31. However, the crop situation was “fair” with good yields expected if the rains persist.
“We had massive delays in planting due to late rains and this will obviously affect the start of the selling season,” Dr Matibiri said.
Last year, the season began mid-February.
Mr Wonder Chabikwa, the president of Federation of Farmers’ Union, said the crop situation had improved since the country started receiving the rains early January.
“We had half a month delay but today it is a good story,” Mr Chabikwa said in an interview.
He said farmers with early crop were already reaping and curing. “If the situation remains as it is, we expect to have a very good season,” he said.
Meanwhile, Dr Matibiri said the $70 million tobacco scheme for small-scale farmers was negatively affected by lack of foreign currency to procure essential inputs. The Government was targeting to support 51 000 small-scale farmers but only 11 000 benefited, mostly fertilisers.
“The programme was delayed because of price increases. We were targeting to distribute inputs to 51 000 farmers but we only managed 11 000.
“But to farmers who have managed to source their fertilisers, we can provide chemicals,” he said.
Now dominated by small-scale growers who benefited under the land reform programme since 2000, the sector produced 252 million kilogrammes of the golden leaf in the last season, the highest ever output in the history of Zimbabwe.
Projections for this season are expected next week. This year, the Government said tobacco farmers will be paid 20 percent of their produce in forex.
Tobacco is a top foreign currency earner and all in export industries are now permitted to run foreign currency accounts. While the actual exports are done by the tobacco merchants who buy the crop from the farmers, the partial payment is seen as a way of ensuring farmers are able in buy imported inputs.
Tobacco farmers had warned failure by the Government to partly pay them in foreign currency could hurt production of Zimbabwe’s single largest foreign currency earner. Cotton farmers will also be paid 20 percent of the proceeds in hard currency.