Statistics released by the Tobacco Industry Marketing Board (TIMB) for the week ending 28 October 2011 show that 4 401 new communal farmers and 5 788 new A1 farmers have registered for the 2012 tobacco season. A1 and communal farmers now represent 47% and 33%, respectively of total registered tobacco farmers.
TIMB indicated that registered growers increased by 1 831 to 29 859 this week, with significant increases being in communal and A1 farmers. This indicates a 7% increase from those registered in the previous week.
“There is a 10% increase in registered growers compared to last year’s figure of 27 267 during the same period,” said TIMB in their weekly bulletin.
The 2011 tobacco selling season failed to meet the projected 170 million kgs of tobacco and the country is still below the peak season of 236 million kgs in 2000 before the height of the land reform programme.
The increase in communal and A1 farmers will result in an increase in the tobacco output, as the country positions itself to produce to its peak period.
But statistics indicate that there is a relatively low figure of large scale commercial farmers in the 2011 season who can guarantee a significant comeback of the tobacco crop to peak levels.
A total of 751 large scale commercial farmers have been registered for the 2011 season representing 3% of total registered farmers. There has been an increase of 37 new large scale commercial farmers for the 2012 season and this indicates that the crop may be increased in output next year.
An agronomist with a leading bank said: “The interest to grow tobacco has been phenomenal due to its attractiveness as a cash crop compared to the traditional crops.”
“The golden leaf has managed to offer a greater return since it is an export crop which is sold under auction. This has enabled farmers to get favaourable prices as compared to the maize crop whose price is pegged by government,” further explained the agronomist.
Statistics also reveal that Mashonaland West and East had more than 50% increase in registered communal farmers, with a total of 4 307 and 2 393 respectively. Manicaland and Mashonaland Central have the highest increases in A1 farmers of 1 800 and 1 720 respectively.
Mashonaland West has traditionally been the hub of maize crop farming but the trend now shows that farmers in that region are now opting to grow tobacco. Huge silos for storing grain are visible in the farming area around Chinhoyi and Lions Den, a sign that the farming region was traditionally reserved for producing maize.
“Without doubt these statistics are worrying because maize is our staple food and this trend only indicates that we are far from doing away with maize shortages. But farmers are also rational businesspeople who seek to maximise their returns, so there is an urgent need to address the pricing matrix of maize for it to remain a farmers choice,” an agro-economist said.
From the statistics, 11 newly registered large scale commercial farmers are from Mashonaland West, with nine from Mashonaland East. This is a clear sign of the shift to tobacco farming in the provinces.
In the 2011 tobacco season, a total of 132,4 million kgs of tobacco were sold through both the auction and the contract system, showing an increase of 7,23% from the 2010 selling season. A total of US$361,5 million was realised in the just concluded season as compared to US$355,6 million in 2010.
In the 2011 selling season, prices were lower averaging US$2,73, compared to last season’s average price of US$2,88. Analysts say this is largely owing to quality and impact of big foreign buyers in the market like the Chinese.
“When the Chinese come into the market, they cause shocks since their huge demand in a short time causes prices to spike but only to weaken to very low levels after they exit the market. It’s a market and there is nothing we can do, farmers should be able to read the market conditions and sell their crop at the correct market timing,” a tobacco trader said.
Seasonal export figures show that China was the biggest buyer of tobacco including cigarettes with a total of 33,8 million kgs worth US$245 million. The United Arab Emirates and South Africa are the second largest importers of Zimbabwean tobacco totaling 12,7 million and 12,5 million kgs respectively.
Communal and small scale farmers who are still mastering how to grow tobacco usually produce a lower quality crop as the methods they use for growing and curing the golden leaf are not to standard.
In the 2011 selling season a total of 119 201 bales of tobacco were rejected for various reasons including bales being underweight. This shows a rejection rate of 7%, which is an improvement from last year’s rejection rate of 8%.