The Sunday News
Tichafara Bepe, Business Reporter
HOPES to harvest more than 200 million kilogrammes of tobacco this year are still alive as the crop, unlike others such as maize, has not been greatly affected by the dry spell prevailing in most parts of the country.
Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board chief executive officer Dr Andrew Matibiri said the tobacco crop had not been significantly affected by the dry spell and could be nurtured back to a healthy state.
“The crop was doing well until about 10 days ago when it started being affected by the dry spell which is hitting the country right now. As such the crops are now showing signs of false ripening due to lack of water while some of the tobacco is developing scorched leaves”, said Dr Matibiri.
“We are confident that if we receive rains by mid-next week the crop can be salvaged with little damage to the quality of the leaves. We are expecting a harvest of below last year’s 252 million kilogrammes due to the erratic rains but a harvest of over 200 million kilogrammes is attainable. But, a more solid projection will be available in about two weeks when our team on the ground conducting crop assessment will have finished and compiled a report on the condition of the crop and yield projections,” Dr Matibiri told the Sunday Business by phone on Friday.
Zimbabwe Farmers’ Union executive director Mr Paul Zakariya, said tobacco had been less affected by the erratic rains with the exception of Manicaland which had lost a substantial part of its tobacco.
“Tobacco is doing a lot better under the dryness persisting across the country. It is actually doing better than cereals which have taken the brunt of the dry spell, especially in the southern parts of the country”, said Mr Zakariya.
He attributed the loss and damage of some crops to late planting.
Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union president Mr Shadreck Makombe said tobacco growers were likely to have a decent harvest as the crop had not suffered the same fate as cereal crops.
Meanwhile, Dr Matibiri said TIMB has not yet begun to use the afforestation levy as they were waiting for Parliament to approve the Finance Bill. The Finance Bill gives legal effect to the National Budget within which Finance and Development Minister Mthuli Ncube said the Tobacco Levy, would be shared equally between the TIMB and the Forestry Commission, with effect from 1 January 2019 for re-investment in afforestation programmes in the tobacco growing areas.
The levy was introduced in 2015 after Government saw the need for conservation of indigenous trees which were being cut down by farmers to cure their tobacco. The levy was initially pegged at 1,5 percent of the farmer’s gross revenue but was revised downwards to 0,75 percent. Over the past four years, the Government has collected $23 million from the levy. Recently, the Forestry Commission said it was going to ban tobacco growers without their own woodlots of fast-growing trees from cultivating the lucrative crop.
Farmers have called for the disbursement of the levy to ensure they continue to produce tobacco, the country’s highest foreign currency earner, in a sustainable manner. Dr Matibiri said the beginning of the tobacco marketing season will be announced soon.