LUSAKA, Apr. 27 - Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Mundia Sikatana says this year's expected earnings from Virginia tobacco sales are estimated at K137 billion (US$28 million) from the 14 million kilogrammes of tobacco.
The minister said yesterday at the official opening of the 2004 sales floors at Tobacco Association of Zambia (TAZ) that with this level of earnings, the crop had the potential to jump start economic development in Zambia.
Mr Sikatana said tobacco had demonstrated to be a fast growing cash crop in the last five years, leaping from 4.5 million kilogrammes of Virginia tobacco in 2000 with earnings of US$5 million to 7.5 million kilogrammes in 2003 reaping US$12.5 million.
Burley tobacco had also been growing from three million kilogrammes in 2000 with earnings of US$1.8 million to 12.5 million kilogrammes last season to earn US$12.4 million.
"Our policy is to support tobacco growing which has been identified as the crop with the potential to jump start economic development in the country," Mr Sikatana said.
He challenged tobacco farmers to increase production next year to 15 million kilogrammes of Virginia tobacco and another 15 million kilogrammes of Burley tobacco.
The minister also challenged farmers and sponsors to open a second processing plant on the eastern side of the Luangwa river to prevent having all the crop produced there exported.
He said establishing a third plant in Kabwe to cater for Central Province producers would realise Government's dream of processing all the tobacco produced locally.
He, however, bemoaned the extent of deforestation as a result of tobacco curing saying measures should be taken to prevent the country from becoming a desert.
But TAZ president Dave Gordon appealed to the minister to look into the issue of Maamba Collieries to minimise deforestation.
Earlier, Mr Gordon said the growth of the tobacco industry was on account of financial guarantees by sponsors who include Standard Commercial, Universal Leaf, TAZ and Tombwe Processing.
He also called for the development of long-term technical support for crop breeding and plant support adding that initiatives had already been taken with the Golden Valley Agricultural Research Trust (GART) and the Natural Resources Development College (NRDC).
At the same function, three farmers won awards for outstanding performance, sponsored by three Commercial banks, African Banking Corporation (ABC), Standard Chartered and Barclays Bank which all pledged continued support to tobacco farmers.