Zimbabwe Braces for Steep Drop in Tobacco Harvest Amid El Niño Impact: A Year Post Record Yield

Zimbabwe, Africa’s primary tobacco producer, launched its annual tobacco-selling season amidst projections of a substantial decrease in both yield and quality due to a drought exacerbated by climate change and worsened by the El Niño weather pattern.

From a record-breaking 296 million kilograms (326,000 tons) last year, production is estimated to plummet to approximately 235 million kilograms (259,000 tons) this season, as stated by Patrick Devenish, chairman of the Tobacco Industry Marketing Board.

Devenish underscored the vulnerability of small-scale farmers, who heavily rely on rainfall, making them particularly susceptible to the adverse effects of droughts, which could compromise tobacco quality. Despite China being the primary buyer, other markets in Western and Eastern Europe, along with parts of Africa, remain significant. In 2023, tobacco exports reached a record $1.2 billion, compared to $975 million in 2022, according to TIMB. Tobacco, alongside minerals such as gold, serves as a major foreign currency earner for Zimbabwe.

Agriculture Minister Anxious Masuka highlighted that about 75% of the crop is cultivated by small-scale farmers lacking equipment and dependent on rain, rendering the country’s production highly weather-dependent. Despite a rebound in tobacco production after a severe decline in the late 1990s following the eviction of white farmers, the current drought has dashed hopes for a prosperous season. George Seremwe, president of the Zimbabwe Tobacco Growers Association, anticipates a 20% or greater loss in earnings due to the drought’s impact. Likephone Makii, a tobacco farmer, expressed dismay over the low prices for his crop, foreseeing the need for food assistance to sustain his family through the year.

As the drought affects both cash crops like tobacco and staple foods like maize, millions of Zimbabweans are expected to rely on food aid, according to aid agencies.

About Geraldine Boechat 2684 Articles
Senior Editor for Medafrica Times and former journalist for Swiss National Television. former NGO team leader in Burundi and Somalia