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September 19, 2012

Zimbabwe tobacco forecast good, but still shy of record

Zimbabwe's agriculture in general continues to struggle to recover under the vastly changed farming and overall economic environment brought in by radical, controversial land reform that began in 2000. But tobacco is the clear bright spot in the post-land reform picture.

Tobacco cultivation is now in the hands of tens of thousands of mostly small to medium scale black farmers, rather than a smaller number of white large-scale farmers as before. Chinese buyers are significantly more active at the tobacco auctions, although western buyers still play an important role.

In order to be able to take their crop to the handful of auction companies, tobacco growers have to register their intention to cultivate the crop before the start of each season. This requirement makes it possible for the Tobacco Industry Marketing Board to have fairly precise figures of cultivation patterns and possible yields long before harvest.

According to The Herald newspaper, the TIMB says 8,000+kg of tobacco seed have been sold to farmers up to early September, 24% more than the 6,500kg sold during the same period in 2011. 46,431 farmers have registered to grow tobacco during the upcoming 2012/13 season, compared to 19,975 for the same period last year.

The registration cut-off date is October 30, so the numbers could still increase significantly.

The just-ended 2011/12 tobacco marketing season saw 144 million kg of tobacco being sold, a little shy of the target of 150 million kg. Zimbabwe's tobacco record was achieved in 200, when 236 million kg were sold. The worst year was 2008, when hyperinflation and other economic woes were at their worst, and only 48 million kg of tobacco was sold.

Among the attractions of tobacco farming for the many new small-scale farmers who are gravitating towards it are a guaranteed international market that comes to Zimbabwe during auction season, and instant cash payments in hard currency.

African Agriculture 

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