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September 19, 2010

Zimbabwe tobacco output rebounds, up 100 percent over 2009

by Nelson Banya

Zimbabwe produced 119 million kg of tobacco in the 2009/10 season, double the previous year's output, an official said on September 3, as the sector recovers from the damage to commercial farming associated with land seizures.

The southern African country's tobacco yield plunged from a peak of 236 million kg in 2000, before President Robert Mugabe embarked on a drive to take white-owned commercial farms to resettle landless blacks, to 48 million kg in 2007/08.

Zimbabwe's economy, devastated by hyperinflation which peaked at 500 billion percent in December 2008, has stabilised since last year when Mugabe was forced into sharing power with bitter rival Morgan Tsvangirai, now prime minister, after disputed elections.

Zimbabwe Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) chief executive officer Andrew Matibiri said  total sales could rise to 120 million kg at the end of the tobacco-selling season on September 3.

"As of yesterday, 119.4 million kg of tobacco had gone through the auctions, compared to 58.6 million kg last year," Matibiri said. "The sales have realised $347 million, at an average of $2.91 per kg."

Matibiri said output was projected to be higher next year.

"For the next season we have recorded seed sales enough for 105,000 hectares and from that planting area, if everything goes well, we can get anything up to 200 million kg," Matibiri said. "But that's assuming the rains and other conditions are favourable."

Western firms were formerly the main purchasers of Zimbabwean tobacco but Chinese interests have emerged as major financiers and buyers in recent years. Industry officials estimate that a third of the tobacco crop was taken up by China.

According to official figures, over 40,000 small-scale black farmers produced 70 percent of the tobacco crop. The remainder was from large-scale commercial farmers, of whom just over 120 are white farmers. In all, about 400 white farmers remain.

Critics accuse Mugabe of destroying the economy through his farm seizures. The veteran ruler -- in power since independence from Britain in 1980 -- accuses Western governments opposed to his rule of plotting to unseat him through economic sanctions.


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