BY FIDELITY MHLANGA
The 2020 tobacco marketing season is set to begin late due to late rains, Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board chairperson (TIMB) Patrick Devenish has said.
Last year, the golden leaf marketing season commenced on March 21 and was marred by a plethora of challenges, chief among them poor prices which obtained on the floors throughout the season.
“All I can say is that the marketing season will start a bit later than last year because of late rains. We are having a meeting this Thursday (today) and we will debate on that,” Devenish said.
In 2019, tobacco deliveries hit an all-time high of 259 million kg at a time average prices were the lowest in years.
Tobacco is one of the country’s top forex earner which has helped shore up revenue needed for the importation of raw materials, fuel and pharmaceuticals among others.
According to Devenish, the unofficial initial projection output for this year is estimated at 225 million kg.
On whether farmers will get the much-needed hard currency, Devenish said: “That is still under discussion, it’s likely that they will be paid 50% forex like last year. The tobacco traders have been meeting with the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor over the matter.”
Unlike in previous seasons whereby farmers made rich pickings due to getting paid in hard currency, the just-ended season saw the central bank paying farmers just 50% of their earnings per sale in foreign currency.
The rest was paid in local currency which rapidly lost value against the greenback.
Due to a lack of transparency in the payment processes, most farmers ended up not following up their mandated 50% US dollar earnings last year.
Data from TIMB shows that as of December 20, hectarage under tobacco marginally grew by 2,8% to 81,977 hectares against 79,708 hectares planted during the same period last year.
A paltry 13 083 hectares was under irrigation with the rest relying on rain-fed water.
Devenish said the small-scale dryland crop is set to come out good as it was planted in time for better rains.
The past season’s average prices were very low at $2 per kg down from $2,92 registered in prior season. The 2019 total output of 259 million kg outweighed the 2018 yield of 253 million kg.