LUSAKA, Dec 18 - Tombwe Processing, a subsidiary of the Tobacco Association of Zambia (TAZ), says it has the capacity to process all locally produced tobacco in Zambia.
General manager Boniface Zulu said in an interview in Lusaka yesterday the plant had the capacity to process 10 million kilogrammes of tobacco this season on a double shift and that was above the current production.
Mr Zulu was reacting to concerns raised by TAZ that the only plant in Zambia did not have capacity to process the Zambian crop and should therefore allow for export of excess tobacco for processing outside.
"We can and are ready process up to 10 million Kilos this season on double shift," Mr Zulu said.
He claimed that the decision by one of the major tobacco buyers, Universal Leaf, to withhold about 1.8 million kilogrammes from being processed locally was not convincing since the plant had been processing its crop from 1996.
"Their intention is to use the Zambian tobacco to make up for their shortages at the Zimbabwe plant currently taking only about 30 to 40 million Kilos from about 80 to 90 per season," Mr Zulu charged.
While Mr Zulu admitted the plant could be old from 1968 when it began operating, he said the machinery had been modified over the years to meet required processing standard.
He also revealed that plans were underway to install new processing lines but this could only be possible when the an assurance of much higher volumes of tobacco coming through the plant for processing to enable the plant to repay back loans for equipment.
Mr Zulu on the other hand said multinational companies that wanted to process their crop should put up their own plants in Zambia and help create jobs locally.
"When we talk of putting new machines, we look at how much crop goes through our plant and three million kilogrammes is nothing. We are looking at buying new lines if all the buyers can process their tobacco with us," he said.
Mr Zulu said the decision by the processing plant to run double shifts was meant to cut on time and was now able to process about six million kilogrammes of tobacco in three months from six months.
TAZ had raised concerns that the undefined position of tobacco exports had led to major investors withholding investment into the plant, which was currently using obsolete machinery falling short of international standards.
The association had also charged that the slow processing was costing farmers as buyers were knocking down prices on the quality of tobacco meant for storage over longer periods pending processing.