COVID-19 places Zim Tobacco exports in harm’s way

  • Tobacco selling season affected by COVID-19
  • Tobacco sales contribute around 25% of Zimbabwe’s annual forex receipts annually
  • hectarage under tobacco has plunged significantly from 42 000 hectares to 35 998 ha

The 2020 tobacco marketing season’s commencement date initially set for February was moved to April and now another push to a future date is likely in the face of the coronavirus outbreak and rapid spread across the world. The initial alteration was attributed to late rains which spilled into February and thus affected the harvest and typical marketing season commencement.

As Zimbabwe’s forex challenges persist, the relief annually brought by proceeds from tobacco sales whose contribution fares beyond 25% of Zimbabwe’s annual forex receipts, is now under threat. In 2019, Zimbabwe’s exports generated US$4.3 billion dollars against imports of US$4.8 billion resulting in a half a billion-dollar deficit.

The tobacco selling season attracts thousands of farmers who track to the capital city Harare, where auction floors are concentrated. In addition to the farmers, thousands of traders and other small businesses annually flock to the tobacco auction floors in a hive of money-generating activities.

This influx and high concentration of humans in areas with little amenities As that environment creates a conducive atmosphere for the spread of the virus. The threat would be eliminated by keeping the selling season at bay, further threatening Zimbabwe’s forex generating capacity

In 2019, the tobacco marketing season commenced on March 21 and was affected by a glut of challenges, prime among them poor prices that dominated the floors throughout the season.

In 2019, tobacco deliveries hit an all-time high of 259 million kg at a time average prices were the lowest in years. The past season’s average prices were very low at $2 per kg down from $2,92 in the 2018 season. The 2019 output outweighed the 2018 yield of 253 million kg.

As such, the hectarage under tobacco has plunged significantly from 42 000 hectares during the 2018/19 season to 35 998 in the 2019/20 season. This speaks to farmers’ loss of interest in the golden leaf due to viability hurdles suffered last season.

Statistics obtained from the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) reveal; as of November 30 2019, 140 257 farmers had registered to grow the crop, down from 165 130 last year, a 15% drop, while hectarage under tobacco crop slumped to 35 998 ha from 42 000 ha.

According to Patrick Devenish, head of the TIMB, the unofficial initial projection output for this year had been pegged at an estimated 225 million kg. Again this was before the pandemic had taken its toll.



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