TOBACCO plantings for 2016 indicate a 3 860 hectare decline from last season’s hectarage of 93 419, raising fears of a potential slump in export earnings from the crop this year.
Statistics from the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) show that irrigated tobacco, has 14 987 hectares planted compared to 15 349 hectares planted during the 2014/2015 growing season. Producers for the dryland crop planted 74 216 hectares, a decline from last year’s crop of 78 068 hectares.
The decline in the area planted has been attributed to the current drought conditions as well as low tobacco prices offered by buyers last year.
The late onset of rains had also affected planting by most farmers.
Tobacco is the lifeblood of the country’s economy. Zimbabwe exports 98 percent of the crop, making it the largest foreign currency generator.
The country’s main tobacco producing regions of Mashonaland East and Manicaland reduced hectarage under crop.
In Manicaland, farmers planted 12 859 hectares, a decline from 23 129 hectares planed last year. In Mashonaland East, area planted declined by 5 886 hectares from 19 458 hectares last year to 13 572 hectares this year.
However, hectarage in Mashonaland West increased from 23 341 hectares the previous season to 27 691 hectares in the 2015/16 growing season.
The TIMB also indicated a 20 percent decline in the number of registered growers this year. For the current season, 70 412 farmers registered to grow tobacco during the 2015/16 season, a decline from the 88 536 who had registered during the same period last year.
From the communal sector, a total of 33 722 farmers registered as growers; 25 485 of these are A1 farmers, while 5 865 are A2 producers. Small scale commercial farmers are at 5 339.
A 45 percent decline was also recorded in the number of new growers. TIMB said 9 025 new farmers had registered this season compared to 16 516 new farmers during the same period last year.
Mashonaland West recorded 27 201 registrations, a decline from 30 785 last year, Mashonaland Central has 24 993 farmers, a decline from the 26 226 recorded last season. Mashonaland East has 9 015 farmers this season, down from the 15 255 last season.
A 69 percent decline in the number of new growers in Manicaland was recorded, as well as a 43 percent decline in the number of registrations from 15 435 in 2015 to 8 771 farmers registered this season.
Masvingo has 132 registered farmers this season compared to 376 last year; Matabeleland has five farmers while 13 farmers registered during the same period last year.
Midlands has 295 farmers this season compared to 446 last year.
Most farmers said the quantity and quality of their crop was compromised by the low rainfall this season.
As one of the major export earners in the country, Zimbabwe’s tobacco export earnings rose to US$160 million in 2016, with China, Belgium, Indonesia and South Africa being the major buyers of the country’s flue cured tobacco.
Despite the rainfall challenges being experienced, irrigated tobacco producers have already started harvesting and curing the crop.
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