Tobacco farmers with the irrigated crop are seeking cheaper fuel to run generators for curing their crop in light of the worsening power shortages after output at the Kariba South hydroelectric plant declined substantially due to low water levels.
About 20 000 hectares of tobacco were planted under irrigation and curing has begun.
Zimbabwe is facing the worst power shortages in more than five years after Zambezi River Authority (ZRA), which manages Kariba dam, ordered Zimbabwe Power Company to stop production at the country’s largest electricity plant due to low water levels.
Zimbabwe shares the Kariba dam with Zambia, which generates power from the north bank.The Government has since moved in to close the gap by improving power generation at Hwange thermal plant, boosting coal production to feed small stations and supplementing domestic output with imports. The commissioning of unit 7 at the Hwange, which has capacity to generate 300MW, is underway with commercial production expected to begin at the end of this month. Zimbabwe will also increase imports from traditional regional suppliers. Tobacco is the country’s largest foreign currency earner after gold. The final sale of tobacco for the 2022 tobacco marketing season was October 21 and a total of 212,7 million kilograms of tobacco had been sold at a value of US$650,3 million.
This was an increase compared to 211,1 kilogrammes sold during the same period in 2021. According to Zimbabwe Tobacco Association (ZTA), a lobby group that represents largely large-scale farmers, said power supplies to the farms were averaging seven hours a day, barring any faults, which represents 30 percent supply or requirement from the grid.
“This, therefore, implies that a staggering 70 percent of the required power has to be generated on farms through the use of generators and consumption of large amounts of diesel,” Rodney Ambrose, chief executive of ZTA said in a letter to the Minister of Lands, Agriculture, Water, Fisheries and Rural Development Dr Anxious Masuka.
“For effective curing and handling of this crop, 24 hours of continuous power is required on the tobacco farms.
“There is an immediate requirement for tobacco farmers to access concessionary priced diesel fuel for generator use either through their contractor or through a Government facility. Listings of affected farmers and requirements can be accessed through associations or unions, contractors and TIMB,” said Mr Ambrose.
“We, therefore, petition for an urgent meeting of stakeholders to discuss this critical issue to urgently put in place measures to prevent unnecessary losses of the 2022/23 tobacco crop, decline in foreign currency earnings and restore an element of farmers’ viability and confidence.”
Mr Ambrose said the costs of production per hectare were at a record high and the power position on farms would increase costs further to the point where “our tobacco is no longer competitive and the farmers’ viability is severely compromised.”
“Further to this, not all areas have received good rains and there is an increasing requirement to start supplementary irrigation of the early dryland crop,” said Mr Ambrose. “Again, this requires a stable power supply from the utility which is not present. From January onwards, curing processes increase and there will be further demand for consistent power and close to 50 percent of the national crop could be exposed.”