A general view of the tobacco sales floors on the first day of the 2018 tobacco selling season in Harare, Zimbabwe, last Wednesday. Farmers are expected to make more than 500 million US dollars from the sale of the golden leaf. Photo: EPA-EFE/AARON UFUMELI
INTERNATIONAL - Tobacco farmers in Zimbabwe are hoping for increased productivity after the 2018 marketing season this week opened with higher prices. The golden leaf fetched $4.99 (R58.40) a kg - up from $4.60/kg last year.

The country is expecting its tobacco crop output to surge by 6percent to 200million kg this year. More than 90percent of this crop is exported through merchants to countries such as South Africa, China and others.

The tobacco earnings are expected to bring some respite to Zimbabwe, which has struggled for liquidity and foreign currency as international merchants return to the market.

“We are limited in the amount of area we have under tobacco, because we can’t access adequate inputs. Tobacco is a highly capital intensive crop and we are hoping that the ­command agriculture scheme will help in terms of expanding the land we have under tobacco,” said farmer Taurai Murando on Friday.

The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe said farmers would be paid $300 on the spot and the rest deposited into their bank accounts or mobile wallets.

However, experts have warned that this year’s quality may have been compromised by delayed rains in 2017 and heavy rains early this year.

Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board chairperson Monica Chinamasa said: “We had hailstorm damage as well in the beginning, and then drought, excessive rains, so it depends at what stage the tobacco was at that time. It could impact, but we are praying that the impact is not too much,” she said.

Vice-President General Constantino Chiwenga also said that the government would extend the tobacco contract model to maize production in a bid to enhance productivity levels.

Zimbabwe’s agriculture ­sector plunged after former President Robert Mugabe’s chaotic land seizures in 2000, alongside wheat, coffee, tea and livestock.

The decline affected production, with farmer Julius Chibaya saying the sector would only recover after real economic improvement took place.

- BUSINESS REPORT