Elita Chikwati Agriculture Reporter
About 18 000 farmers abandoned tobacco growing this season due to drought and unfavourable prices offered at the auction floors last season, Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board statistics have shown. According to the statistics, tobacco registrations have this season dropped by 20 percent with 71 510 growers registering this year compared to 89 581 during the corresponding period last year.
Masvingo has registered the highest percentage of drop-outs in tobacco growing with 135 farmers having registered this season compared to 378 the same period last year. The number of registered growers has declined by 64 percent.
Matabeleland has five registered growers this season compared to 13 last year. In Manicaland, registered growers declined by 43 percent from 15 664 last year to 9 161, Mashonaland Central declined by 5 percent from 26 434 to 25 098 while Mashonaland West went down from 31 313 growers to 27 857 this year.
Midlands registrations declined by 34 percent from 450 last year to 297 this year, while Mashonaland East registrations declined by 40 percent from 15 326 growers last year to 9 161 growers this season.
This season, 34 330 communal farmers registered for tobacco while 25 768 are from the A1 sector. There are 5 978 A2 and 5 434 small scale farmers respectively. The 2015/16 season has been characterised by drought which affected the dry land crop. The season started late and most farmers delayed planting. Some of the crop was also affected by dry weather conditions and yields are expected to be low.
Stakeholders in the tobacco industry are optimistic that prices will be firm this season due to the decline in production. TIMB chief executive, Dr Andrew Matibiri, said there may be higher demand for the crop considering that some of the competing countries did not have a big crop this season.
Dr Matibiri said Brazil, which was one of the major producers in the world, had its crop affected by floods and this reduced the crop size. “Tanzania has a smaller crop while Zambia and Malawi have not changed production. Zimbabwe still remains the major tobacco producer in the region,” he said.
TIMB will this season switch from the conventional auction system to the new automated system to reduce issues of side marketing and illegal sales.