Elita Chikwati Agriculture Reporter
The 2016 tobacco marketing season officially starts today at the auction floors and tomorrow at the contract floors with at least 158 million kilogrammes of the golden leaf expected to be sold this year.
This indicates a decline of 20 percent from last year’s 198 million kilogrammes sold.
Traditionally, auction floors open in February to cushion farmers from cash shortages, but this year the season was delayed by three weeks due to late rains.
The 2015-16 season was characterised by drought, which resulted in farmers planting late and the crop heavily affected by the dry spell.
According to the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board, the bad weather did not only affect Zimbabwe only, but the whole of Southern Africa and some major tobacco producers such as Brazil.
TIMB statistics show that last season farmers planted 107 546 hectares of the golden leaf, while this season they managed 92 160 hectares.
Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers’ Union of Zimbabwe president Mr Wonder Chabikwa said farmers were expecting firm prices this season basing on the economics of supply and demand.
“We are expecting a reduced tobacco crop this season due to poor rains and low prices offered at auction floors. Drought has contributed to the reduction of the crop.
“We also hope the use of the e-auction system will bring order which may weed out class B buyers who contributed to poor auction prices,” he said.
TIMB chairperson Mrs Monica Chinamasa confirmed that there could be a high demand for Virginia tobacco this season and said although the season was bad, the quality of the crop remained good.
“As TIMB, we feel there may be higher demand for the crop considering that some of the competing countries do not have a big crop this season too,” he said.
Mrs Chinamasa urged growers to take reasonable care to present for sale undamaged tobacco that is uniformly graded, free from contamination and foreign matters or any other non-tobacco related materials.
This season farmers will be paid through their bank accounts unlike in the previous years where they would get cash.
TIMB public relations officer Isheunesu Moyo said most of the farmers did not have bank accounts but the process of acquiring the accounts was easy as only the growers number and national identity were required.
“Farmers have started opening bank accounts and this shows they are complying with the new payment system. The new system will enable farmers to have track records, which they can later use to access loans from banks.
“A total of 23 buyers have been licensed to buy on the auction floors and 15 merchants have been approved for contract sales.