Early morning on the last day of Zimbabwe’s tobacco auction season, trucks carrying tobacco bales waited to offload the crop at the Tobacco Auction Floors in the capital Harare.
On the waiting bays, the farmers, who had braved the mid-winter chilly morning could be seen anxiously waiting for their crop to finally go under the hummer before the curtain came down on the season.
“This season was okay, although not as good as last year,” said Tafadzwa Mugwagwa, a small-scale farmer from Rusape, a farming region southeast of Harare.
“We experienced erratic rainfall, there was a dry spell and the rains were late. The crop was affected when we applied fertilizers but it picked again when the rains came, that’s why the crop wasn’t auctioned on time,” he told Xinhua.
The auction season, which started in March, closed on Wednesday, with more than 180 million kg of the golden leaf having been sold at an average price of 3.04 dollars per kg.
However, due to the significant volumes that are still being received, the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB), said contract sales will continue until further notice. A mop-up sale will be conducted on August 17.
While most farmers had already delivered their crops to the auction floors before the end of the selling season, many farmers from Manicaland Province said they are yet to bring all their crops to the market.
“We haven’t brought all the crops to the market, we still have tobacco crops back home because we didn’t finish harvesting on time. We were still curing tobacco in June,” said Dorothy Chigwededza, a tobacco farmer.
The golden leaf is considered by many small-scale farmers in the country to be a viable way to escape poverty.
Zimbabwe’s tobacco industry is dominated by smallholder farmers who contribute more than 50 percent of the country’s yearly produce.
What makes the crop more attractive to smallholder farmers is that 75 percent of their sales proceeds are paid in foreign currency which makes investing possible given the high inflation rate in the country.
The bulk of Zimbabwe’s tobacco leaf is sold through contract floors, with 95 percent of the crop grown under the contract system while only 5 percent of farmers self-finance tobacco leaf production.
Shepherd Chiguvare, a self-financed tobacco farmer, said the tough economic environment might affect preparations for this cropping season.
“Another issue is of fertilizers and chemicals. They are expensive. Many farmers will not be able to prepare for this season because they are not able to buy fertilizers,” he said.
Tobacco prices have been slightly firmer this year, due to better quality leaves despite the difficult weather conditions experienced during the season.
The opening price this year was 4.60 U.S. dollars per kg, slightly up from 4.30 dollars last year.
Over the course of the selling season, prices remained firm, averaging above 3 U.S. dollars per kg compared to an average of 2.80 dollars per kg last year.
Zimbabwe, the largest producer of tobacco in Africa and sixth globally, is looking to turn tobacco farming into a five billion dollar industry by 2025.
Tobacco is the southern African country’s second foreign currency earner after gold.