Harare – Zimbabwe’s tobacco output is expected to grow by around 9% to 200,000 tonnes this year, the industry regulator said Wednesday, providing a major source of foreign currency for the country’s embattled economy.
As the selling season got under way, Zimbabwe’s Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board said output was forecast to rise from 184,000 tonnes last year owing to good rains.
Tobacco raked in $782 million (R11.3 billion) in sales last year for Zimbabwe — Africa’s leading producer of the crop — providing badly needed foreign currency.
The industry is also one of the largest employers in a country choked by joblessness, despite vast agricultural and mineral resources.
Tobacco farmers gathered at a trading floor in the capital Harare on Wednesday to mark the start of selling season, eager to reap profits from the production boom.
“We are happy this season was good,” farmer Remember Kapikinyi told AFP.
Another farmer, Steady Zvavamwe, said his harvest had been “very good” and was likely to yield strong profits.
Smoking has plateaued in most rich nations as education campaigns about the health risks have taken effect.
But in the developing world the total number of tobacco users — overwhelmingly men, especially the young — continues to climb, according to a report by World Health Organization-aligned watchdogs released in November.
The global tobacco market size was valued at nearly $850 billion in 2019.
Zimbabwe’s Agriculture Minister Anxious Jongwe Masuka said plans were underway to ramp up tobacco production in the southern African country to 300,000 tonnes per year, with a value chain aiming to reach $5 billion by 2025.
Zimbabwe was already grappling with hyperinflation and an economic downturn before the pandemic, which aggravated the situation.
The economy is expected to recover with forecast growth of 3.1% this year, according to the International Monetary Fund, slower than the 4.2% projected in October.
Numbers at the trading event in Harare were capped on Wednesday due to coronavirus restrictions, and buyers could only access the sales floor with a Covid-19 vaccination certificate.
Zimbabwe has counted nearly 40,000 coronavirus cases to date, of which more than 1,500 have been fatal.