ZIMBABWE’s cigarette manufacturers last year spent US$269,3 million on tobacco imports, as they sought flavours to blend locally-produced flue-cured tobacco. According to information from the sector’s regulators, the cigarette manufacturers last year imported 8,1 million kilogrammes of tobacco to enhance the quality of the locally grown crop.
This, however, was a 43 percent decrease from tobacco imports made the previous year, but an industry player said current beneficiation initiatives meant that the country would import more tobacco for blending purposes. Food Security and Nutrition chairman, Lovegot Tendengu, said the imports were increasing because the number of cigarette companies in the country had increased to seven, from just one because the country embarked on a land reform programme in 2000. The only player on the market then was British American Tobacco (BAT).
“The imported tobacco from Zambia and South Africa are of different varieties to flue-cured tobacco and they add a certain flavour to the cigarette. It is all for blending purposes,” Tendengu said.
He added: “Because of the beneficiation programme we are working on, the imports will definitely increase. More tobacco will be needed for blending. We need other varieties that are not produced here to mix the taste. Our tobacco alone is not enough to make a good quality cigarette.”
Statistics from Tobacco Industry Marketing Board show that for 2014, tobacco worth US$29,3 million was imported from Zambia, Mozambique, United Arab Emirates (UAE), United Kingdom (UK), Uganda, Bangladesh, Malawi and South Africa, at an average price of US$3,64 per kg.
The tobacco imported during the same period in 2013 is however lower that the 14,3 million kg that was bought for US$51,7 million at an average price of US$3,60 per kg. The bulk of the crop was from Zambia which exported 6,6 million kg valued at US21,5 million at an average price of US$3,28 per kg, India which shipped 885 792 kg worth US$4,4 million at US$5,02 per kg, Malawi, which exported 257 035 kg worth US$1,5 million at US$5,89 per kg, and Mozambique which sold their crop at US$7,17 per kg to bring into the country 99 000 kg valued at US$711 810.
Zimbabwe also imported from 79 200 kg from Bangladesh worth US$237 600 at US$3 per kg, 70 184 kg from South Africa valued at US$208 428 bought at an average of US$2,97 per kg, 59 4000 kg from Uganda worth US$457 974 at US$7,71, 26 400 kg from UAE worth US$129 330 at US$3,59 per kg and 25 200 kg from the UK valued at US$90 468 at US$3,59 per kg.
TIMB and the Farmers Development Trust, which have one of the biggest training programmes in the world, are working hard to train farmers so that they continue to produce the globally acclaimed flavoured tobacco which has always been associated with Zimbabwe’s Virginia tobacco.
“We continue to train the 89 000 growers of which they can increase to 120 000 by the beginning of the season to ensure that quality tobacco is produced.”
Tendengu suggested that an increase in production in varieties such as burley tobacco and oriental tobacco may reduce the imports. Exports to China between January 1 and January 15 2015 show that China reclaimed its position as the leading importer of Zimbabwe’s tobacco, buying four million kilogrammes of tobacco worth US$$1,9 million.
Other top importers include South Africa, which bought 488 020 kg for US$2,6 million, United Arab Emirates bought 650 034 kg valued at US$2,3 million, Belgium took up 316 200 kg worth US$1,2 million. Exports continue to Indonesia, Paraguay, Vietnam, Kenya, Jordan, Bulgaria, Korea and Singapore. Tobacco is one of the country’s top foreign currency earners and accounts for 10,7 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product.