Zimbabwean tobacco seed sales decline 30 percent

TOBACCO seed sales for the 2005/6 season are facing a 30% decrease which is set to have a major bearing on the country’s national output and foreign currency earnings

The decline in seed sales will result in yields of 40 000 hectares at 6,25 grammes/hectare.

The sales for the 2005/6 season were affected by dire shortages of critical inputs.

The hectarage is being affected by the shortage of seedbed chemicals, land preparation, chemicals, fertilisers, tractive power, fuel and oils and the availability of cost-effective coal.

Officials said the irrigated crop which is a key component of quality and high-yielding tobacco might fall in the 2005/6 selling season.

The decline is due to low dam water levels, re-allocated resources to winter crops and delays in crop planting and financing. The planting season for the irrigated crop for the 2005/6 begins on September 1 with the last date for seedbeds being the end of this month.

“Timing is everything in tobacco. We are constantly too late: exchange rate and price support mechanisms six weeks after floors open, finance for seedbeds not yet practically available, loans repayable in June are six weeks too early,” an official said.

“At least 60% of the national crop was sold at an exchange rate of $9000-10 800:U$1 and inputs for the following season are being replaced at $18 000-40 000:US$1 or 100-300% of the inflation rate,” said the official.

The 2005/6 season is bound to be affected by a host of factors which include access to concessionary funding for the duration of the season and access to 15% of US dollar retention scheme to guarantee the timely imports of inputs.

Once the biggest forex cash cow accounting for over 45% of the total hard currency inflows into the country, tobacco has attracted minuscule revenue at the auction floors, according to statistics from the Zimbabwe Tobacco Association.

The revelations come hard on the heels of African countries scrambling for Zimbabwean farmers in the wake of government’s proposed Land Amendment Bill which seeks to nationalise land and erode property rights.

According to ZTA data, the crop has to date earned US$97,6 milllion down from US$120,7 million during the same period last year, reflecting a downfall of US$23,1 million.

Tobacco output has deteriorated over the last four years from 285 million kg to plus or minus 60 million kg last year. –