March 11 (Bloomberg) -- Tobacco prices in Zimbabwe, which relies on the crop as its biggest agricultural export earner, fell 16 percent from a year earlier, according to the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board.
Leaf prices dropped to $2.87 a kilogram (2.2 pounds) from $3.42 in the prior year, Andrew Matibiri, the board’s chief executive officer, said today by telephone. The nation’s tobacco sales season opened Feb. 19.
“Prices started low, but have risen since sales began,” Matibiri said. Sales generated $29 million from 10.1 million kilograms of leaf, compared with $33.5 million from 9.8 million kilograms in the first 13 days of selling last year, he said.
Zimbabwe grows mainly flue-cured tobacco, also known as Virginia, used to flavor high-quality cigarettes. Production shrank to less than 50 million kilograms, compared with a 2000 high of 236 million kilograms, after most white-owned, large-scale farms were seized under President Robert Mugabe.
The country sold 166.5 million kilograms of tobacco last year and may produce more this year after the number of growers rose 32 percent, Matibiri said Jan. 16. He said 86,000 mainly small-scale farmers registered to grow the crop, compared with 65,000 last year.
Zimbabwe earned $621.1 million last year from tobacco sales. The nation sells its harvest to the likes of Richmond, Virginia-based Universal Corp., alongside merchants from China and South Africa.
Africa and the Middle East will probably produce 415 million kilograms of flue-cured tobacco this year, according to estimates on Universal’s website. The company says it’s the world’s leading leaf-tobacco merchant and processor.
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