HARARE – Zimbabwe has so far earned over $1,3 billion from tobacco sales since the opening of the marketing season mid-February.
Statistics released by the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (Timb) indicate that tobacco exports surged to $719 million in November from the sale of 130 million kilogrammes (kg), compared to $712 million recorded in the same period of the previous year.
This comes on the back of farmers earning over $605 million for 160 million kg of tobacco sold in the marketing season which officially ended in August.
The southern African country — which exports 98 percent of semi-finished tobacco products, while the remaining three percent is locally-consumed — is expected to export over $1 billion worth of tobacco this year, surpassing $800 million worth of tobacco exports last year.
Figures released by Timb this week showed that China remained the country’s biggest buyer having bought 46,3 million kg tobacco worth $359,9 million at an average price of $7,76 per kg.
Market watchers maintain that China and Zimbabwe’s trade in tobacco started in the 1980s after the Chinese developed an interest in the pale -to-lemon coloured tobacco produced mostly under irrigation in the Highveld areas of Marondera, Wedza, Beatrice and Harare South.
The last 10 years saw a major shift in China’s import patterns as the Asian giant broadened its scope to include all quality tobacco that is produced in Zimbabwe.
Belgium came in second having bought 22 million kg of the golden leaf worth $114 million at an average price of $5,15.
South Africa ? which had overtaken China in mid-season — came in a distant third after importing 17 million kg of tobacco worthy $56 million at an average price of $3,36.
The highest export price was $10,03 per kg offered by Japan when it bought 600kg, while Congo offered the lowest price after buying 76 800kg for $0,29.
“Our tobacco continues to be in demand the world over. China is not alone in the pursuit of our tobacco.
“This is so because of its good smoking flavour and very few cigarette brands globally are made without Zimbabwean components,” said Andrew Matibiri, the TIMB chief executive.
Meanwhile the number of growers who have so far registered to grow tobacco during the 2013/14 season are 83 967, up from 83 668 recorded last week.
According to TIMB, during a similar period in 2012, approximately 62 605 growers had registered to grow tobacco.
Over the past few years Zimbabwean farmers have been abandoning growing maize due to viability concerns.
Industry experts say most local farmers are now considering growing tobacco and not the staple crop or other food crops, thereby pushing the country into serious food insecurity.
According to Word Food Programme more than 2,2 million Zimbabweans are facing starvation in the current farming season.