As the coronavirus pandemic continues to weaken the global economy, Zimbabwean farmers are looking to tobacco production for sustenance.
Farmers started selling their tobacco crop on Wednesday (April 29), after the outbreak delayed the opening of auctions, which provide vital foreign currency inflows.
Coming a month later than usual, farmers, who produced an all-time high of 259 million kilograms of tobacco last year, sell their crop to tobacco merchants, who process the crop for export.
Chido Nyakudya, CEO of Boka Tobacco Floors admitted the odd nature of the 2020 season: “It’s a different season, not like the one we’re used to. The season started later than usual. There is obviously some anxiety about the way things are going to go.”
Tobacco producers are also concerned about harassment by the police. Biggie Muronda, a tobacco farmer said: “It’s not very easy to come here to Harare because the police harass us despite permission to travel during this lockdown.”
This difficulty sometimes pushes producers to resort to intermediaries which results in a fall in profit.
“I think people are nervous about sending in their tobacco because of the COVID lockdown. They don’t know how it works in the city when they’re in the rural areas,” Mike Roberts, a buyer said.
The farmers are mainly interested in selling their crop at a pretty good price. Tobacco is Zimbabwe’s second-biggest earner of foreign exchange after gold. Last year, it generated $747 million in exports mainly to China and Europe, according to central bank data.