The tobacco auction season opened in Harare, Zimbabwe, on Tuesday, two months earlier than had been customary, with 800 bales or some 80,000 kilograms of leaf going under the hammer on two auction floors.
Chief Executive Andrew Matibiri of the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board told VOA that the flue-cured tobacco was selling at a healthy average of US$4 per kilogram compared to the selling price of US$3 a kilo last year.
Matibiri said: “The 2010 flue-cured tobacco auction sales started today and contract sales are expected to start this Wednesday.”
He said auction sales would be conducted twice a week and contract sales were expected to depend on tobacco supplies.
Matibiri said it is expected that 77 million kilograms of tobacco will be sold this year with 45 percent or close to 40 million kilograms selling through the auction system, and the rest being disposed of under contracts.
He said the early-than-usual auction season opening was intended to help leaf farmers to repay loans ahead of time and prepare for the next season.
“Farmers are expected to unlock the value of their tobacco instead of keeping it for two months in their barns,” said Matibiri, adding that “now they can sell it as they cure it.”
Agricultural expert Renson Gasela said while the season was off to an early start, this year’s projected crop of 70 million kilograms would fall well short of the 237 million kilograms sold one decade ago in 2000. That was the year land reform began, driving hundreds of white growers off their property.
He said it would take time for the current occupiers of farms to increase the production of tobacco to significant levels.
Tobacco production posted a 16 percent increase between 2008 and 2009 from 48.8 million kilograms to 56.6 million kilos.
Harare press reports said somewhat more than 22,000 growers have registered to sell their tobacco this season compared with 28,000 in 2009.