Elita Chikwati Senior Reporter
The 2020 tobacco marketing season opened yesterday, amid calls for farmers to draw lessons from the lucrative and successful tobacco industry and apply their skills towards production of other crops to boost food production and uplift the people’s livelihoods.
Tobacco is largely funded through private contractors and loans, and tobacco farmers are considered among the most skilled in Zimbabwe, hence the calls for them to expand operations into other crops and for other farmers to emulate their skills.
Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement Minister Perrance Shiri opened the selling season at Tobacco Sales Floor (TSF) at a ceremony witnessed by his deputies — Cdes Vangelis Haritatos and Douglas Karoro — Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) officials, farmers’ unions, merchants and some farmers.
Minister Shiri announced the opening price of US$6 per kg, with the first bale selling at US$4 per kg.
Last year, the first bale sold at US$4,50 per kg, and 259 million kilogrammes were delivered.
Minister Shiri applauded the tobacco sector for performing well despite the challenges faced by the agriculture industry. Zimbabwe is the biggest tobacco producer in Africa and is ranked third in the world.
The agriculture sector is expected to recover by 5 percent, mainly driven by tobacco.
Minister Shiri attributed the success of the tobacco industry to Government policies, involvement of contractors who bring inputs on time and expert advice from agriculture extension workers, and others from tobacco auction floors.
“I thank farmers because they are performing well. We may have some problems in other crops but in tobacco, which is difficult to grow, we are excelling. We should take lessons and experience from the tobacco industry and utilise it in the production of other crops.
“We should emulate the tobacco industry to boost production in maize, wheat, cotton. What is important is for farmers to improve the quality.
“In terms of flavour, we are one of the countries producing the best flavour. As such, tobacco remains a strategic crop for this country and will remain so for the foreseeable future,” said Minister Shiri.
Government will continue to create a conducive environment for tobacco growers and the industry at large to boost output.
Minister Shiri called for the decentralisation of auction floors, saying this would be main thrust of the industry going forward to reduce crowds in Harare.
Decentralisation is also in line with the Government policy of devolution, the Transitional Stabilisation Programme and Vision 2030 of an upper middle income economy.
Minister Shiri said tobacco deliveries to the auction floors could be restructured by consolidating loads to minimise the number of farmers going to the markets as well as reduce transport costs incurred by farmers.
With information technology, growers could monitor virtual sales of their tobacco crop in the comfort of their homes, without travelling to the floors.
Minister Shiri urged farmers to reduce carbon footprint of tobacco through the use of renewable energy sources for curing while taking advantage of improved curing technologies.
Tobacco farmers have also been urged to consider diversifying into other local and export markets through active involvement in traditional cropping programmes as well as horticulture value chains that create sources of continuous income to sustain their livelihoods.
The ministry is looking at introducing new crops such as industrial hemp, stevia, solaris tobacco and medicinal cannabis as part of diversification.
TIMB chairperson Mr Pat Devenish said this year’s tobacco marketing season could not be done in the usual manner where thousands of farmers and other interested stakeholders used to congregate at the tobacco sales floors. New systems had been put in place to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
“The industry is grateful to President Mnangagwa for declaring the industry as essential service. This has allowed us to avoid further delays in the start of the 2020 marketing season and at the same time enabling farmers to plan and prepare for the 2021 season on time.
“The tobacco season has an 18-month production cycle. Further delays would have had a deleterious delay in terms, of preparations for 2021 production season including establishment of seedbeds resulting in loss of two consecutive seasons, something that would have had harmful consequences on the overall economy of the country,” he said.
Tobacco Association of Zimbabwe president, Mr George Seremwe, expressed concern over the opening prices but hoped they will improve as the season progresses. Boka Tobacco Floors managing director Mrs Chido Nyakudya was unhappy with the low levels of deliveries since TIMB regulations and preventive measures were communicated to farmers late.
She expects farmers to deliver more of the crop next wee