The number of farmers who have registered to grow tobacco in Zimbabwe, which relies on the crop as its biggest agricultural export earner, has declined from more than 184 000 last year to slightly above 160 000 this year, statistics from the industry regulator have shown.
Previously a preserve for commercial farmers, tobacco is fast becoming an attractive source of livelihood for many of Zimbabwe’s small scale and communal farmers. In its latest bulletin issued today, the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) said that a total of 160 224 farmers had so far registered for the 2019/20 season compared with 184 446 who had registered by the same time last year.
New registrations for 2019/20 now stand at 8 245, which is 81 percent down from 44 208 this time last year. Experts say there is need for the government needs to incentivize tobacco farmers by increasing the foreign currency retention threshold. This comes as there is low appetite on the part of farmers who are still warming up to the low prices that prevailing in the market. Farmers feel short changed by the current foreign currency threshold which requires them to get 50% of their proceeds in local currency at a fixed rate of Z$25.00 to USD1.00 while the parallel market US dollar sell rate is around Z$73.00 – $75.00.
Tobacco production has been on the increase in the past few years, with farmers selling a record 259 million kg last year, up from 253 million kg in 2018. Last year, it generated US$747 million in exports mainly to China and Europe, according to the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe data. Traditionally, the opening of tobacco auction floors leads to improved foreign exchange inflows in the country, with buyers scrambling to purchase the crop.