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February 16, 2010

Zimbabwe's tobacco sales marked by higher production

Zimbabwe's annual tobacco selling season began on an upbeat note February 16 when a bumper crop went under the hammer, attributed by industry officials to good prices and more farmers.

In all, 77 million kilogrammes (77,000 metric tonnes) of tobacco were sold, an increase from 56 million sold last year, officials said.

Njodzi Machirori, chairman of the Tobacco Industry Marketing Board, said higher production was due to firming prices in the industry and an increase in the number of farmers. "Last year, tobacco was the only crop that paid out well compared to others and as a result we have more new farmers," Machirori said. "We also anticipate that by the end of the season the actual production might reach 85 million kilogrammes."

Small scale growers produced 35 million kilogrammes while the remainder came from large scale growers, Machirori said.

Elton Moyo, a newly resettled farmer who was growing tobacco for the first time and came to the auction with nine bales, said he was pleased with the first day of trading. "The pricing was good and I do not regret venturing into tobacco industry," he said. "The sector is well supported when compared to other commercial crops. My tobacco was sold for a good price."

Over the years, tobacco production and earnings declined due to President Robert Mugabe's controversial land reforms, which he said were meant to address colonial imbalances between white landowners and the black majority.

Production has also suffered as a result of successive years of drought.

Traditionally, tobacco sales start in April but this year they were brought forward at the request of small scale growers, who said they needed the money from the sales to finance their next crop.

Last year, tobacco earnings contributed 26 percent towards Zimbabwe's gross domestic product, but the figure is expected to be higher this year.


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