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September 30, 2008

Farmer deliveries to Zimbabwe tobacco auctions drop 40%

Zimbabwe's tobacco selling season officially ended last week with deliveries dropping 40 percent from a year ago, the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board said.

Farmers brought 45 million kilograms (99 million pounds) of the leaf to auction houses by Sept. 26, compared with 75 million kilograms a year earlier, said Andrew Matibiri, chief executive officer of the Harare-based board. Unofficial sales will continue to be held every two weeks.

``There is still a lot of tobacco on the farms,'' Matibiri said.

Zimbabwe produces mainly high-grade flue-cured tobacco that rivals the U.S. for quality, and flavors cigarettes such as Marlboro and Benson and Hedges. Production has plunged since 2000, when President Robert Mugabe began seizing white-owned commercial farms for redistribution to black farmers deprived of land under British colonial rule. Tobacco output that year was 236 million kilograms.

Deliveries have slowed this year because of a shortage of diesel needed to transport the crop to auction houses, said Lovegot Tengundu, executive director of the Farmers' Development Trust. Growers are also dissatisfied with the exchange being offered for their tobacco, said Zimbabwe Tobacco Association President Andrew Ferreira.

``Prices have been good in U.S. dollar terms, but the interbank rate of exchange isn't realistic,'' Ferreira said.

Zimbabwe has the world's highest inflation rate and is in its 10th year of economic recession. One U.S. dollar traded at 129 Zimbabwe dollars on the interbank market today, while on the black market, where most Zimbabweans buy their foreign exchange, it is worth 1 million Zimbabwe dollars.

Tobacco exports earned Zimbabwe $145 million so far this year, compared with $181 million a year earlier.


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