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A worker checks on delivered tobacco during the opening of the marketing season at the Tobacco Sales Floor (TSF) in Harare, Zimbabwe, March 13, 2024.REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

Zimbabwe tobacco production to fall 10% due to drought

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Zimbabwe’s tobacco production is expected to fall at least 10 percent to 265 million kg in 2024 from its biggest-ever crop of 296 million kg last year due to an El Nino-induced drought, the industry regulator said on Wednesday.

El Nino is a natural climate phenomenon in which surface waters of the central and eastern Pacific become unusually warm, causing changes in global weather patterns.

Zimbabwe is Africa’s largest tobacco producer and tobacco is one of the country’s main foreign currency earners. It brought in a record 1.2 billion U.S. dollars in 2023 from exports mostly to China, according to the Tobacco Industry Marketing Board (TIMB).

The area of tobacco cultivated has declined 3 percent to 113,000 hectares in the current season, from 117,000 hectares last year due to drought, said the TIMB.

“There has been a decline in volumes per hectare,” TIMB Chairman Patrick Devenish said at the opening of the 2024 marketing season.

About 75 percent of Zimbabwe’s tobacco is produced by smallholder farmers who do not have good irrigation systems, Agriculture Minister Anxious Masuka said on Wednesday, adding that this needs to be improved to help withstand climate shifts.

“It was a tough farming season, the rains were scarce. I hope that I will get a good price for my tobacco,” said Philemon Mutandwa, an independent farmer from Marondera, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) east of the capital Harare.

The first bale of the 2024 marketing season was sold for 4.92 U.S. dollars per kg. Last year prices opened at 4.35 U.S. dollars.

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