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Zimbabwe reopens tobacco auctions after coronavirus delay

29 April 2020 - 13:27 By Reuters
Zimbabwe farmers started selling their tobacco crop on Wednesday.
Zimbabwe farmers started selling their tobacco crop on Wednesday.
Image: Gallo Images/Thinkstock

Zimbabwe farmers started selling their tobacco crop on Wednesday after the coronavirus outbreak delayed the opening of auctions, which provide vital foreign currency inflows, by more than a month.

Tobacco is the second biggest earner of foreign exchange after gold, and last year generated $747 million in exports mainly to China and Europe, according to central bank data.

Industry regulator Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) said production was expected around 230 million kilogrammes after rain cut the area planted by 12% and fewer growers planted the crop compared to last year.

Farmers, who produced an all time high of 259 million kgs of tobacco last year, sell their crop to tobacco merchants, who process the crop for export.

Smuggling between South Africa and Zimbabwe is rife in Musina, Limpopo. Zimbabweans, facing a dire food security situation, can no longer buy food in the town as the coronavirus pandemic has led to the closure of the border to South Africa. Despite the erection of a R37 million fence, which was completed on April 20 2020, food is still regularly being smuggled into Zimbabwe.

"The crop before us was generally grown under grim weather conditions characterised by late rains and long dry spells," Pat Devenish, the TIMB chairman said at a ceremony to mark the beginning of the tobacco selling season in Harare.

After a drought last year, poor rains this season and the coronavirus outbreak, humanitarian aid groups say Zimbabwe faces a catastrophe, as more than half the population require food aid.

To prevent the spread of the coronavirus, TIMB has banned informal traders from selling goods at auction floors.

Farmers will not be allowed to sleep outside the auction floors while waiting to sell the crop as has happened in the past.

Devenish said farmers would be allowed to retain half their earnings in dollars and the remainder in local currency. 

They perform one of SA's most important services - collecting recyclables that would otherwise swell the country's rubbish dumps and burden municipal trash collection - but the coronavirus lockdown has left thousands of waste pickers without any way to make a living. While municipal refuse removers were classified as essential workers, waste pickers were excluded from the list. Lockdown measures are expected to be relaxed slightly from May 1 2020, but the group still faces an uncertain future.