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February 21, 2011

Zimbabwe tobacco production may rise 38% this season

by Nelson Gore Banya

Zimbabwe’s tobacco production may climb 38 percent to 170 million kilograms this season as more farmers start growing the crop, according to the country’s Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board.

Output may rise from 123 million kilograms last year, said Andrew Matibiri, the board’s chief executive officer.

Tobacco production in Zimbabwe is still below peak levels of about 236 million kilograms achieved in 2000, before President Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Front party sponsored often-violent seizures of most white-owned farms. Output slipped to a low of 58.6 million kilograms in 2009, reflecting the effects of a political and economic crisis which peaked during 2008.

“Our well-considered estimate is that we could reach 170 million kilograms this year,” Matibiri said. “The stable economic environment, which makes it easier for farmers to plan, is a major factor that has drawn more farmers into the tobacco industry.”

Small-scale tobacco farmers currently account for more than half of Zimbabwe’s output of the leaf, said Agriculture Minister Joseph Made, as he opened the 2011 marketing season in Harare today. As production rises, farmers should now focus on improving quality, he said.

Zimbabwe earned $347.8 million from tobacco sales last year, the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board has said. China was the main buyer of Zimbabwe’s crop, replacing Western companies that were traditionally the biggest buyers, it said.

Zimbabwe is the world’s sixth-largest exporter of the flue- cured variety of the leaf, which is also known as Virginia tobacco. It lags behind Brazil, India, the U.S., Argentina and Tanzania, according to the website of Universal Corp., the world’s biggest tobacco-leaf merchant.

Businessweek

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