By Tapiwa Machemedze

The 2017 tobacco selling season has kicked off with the first bale being sold for US$4.60 a kilogramme.

Tobacco growers have been hailed as economic heroes of this country as the 2017 tobacco marketing season officially began.

Central Bank Governor Dr John Mangudya said the industry is a strategic production sector generating enough foreign currency to cover the country’s entire fuel import bill of US$720 million per year.

“Tobacco is very important in terms of employment and foreign exchange. Producers of tobacco are indeed our heroes. The foreign currency that you produce is above US$800 million per year.

The Minister of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Dr Joseph Made officially launched the season but commencement of sales was delayed by a technical problem in the e-marketing system, forcing auctioneers to revert back to the old system.

Minister Made said the system glitch is temporary.

“When you introduce a new system you are likely to succeed or have a systems failure temporarily but that is best explained by the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB). The units are not linking between TIMB and the gadgets buyers have,” said Dr Made.

Dr Made appealed to the central bank to give top priority to agriculture when allocating resources since it is the largest contributor of foreign exchange.

TIMB chairperson Mrs Monica Chinamasa said the industry continues to grow with a 16 percent increase in growers witnessed this season while Chinese ambassador to Zimbabwe Huang Ping said China will continue to be a major buyer of tobacco through Tianze.

Three main auction floors and 19 contract buyers were licenced to buy the golden leaf with treasury projecting output to surpass 200 million kilogrammes.

Contract sales will begin tomorrow.