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The BBC's Gavin Hewitt in Harare
"Nearly 40% of Zimbabwe's foreign earnings are dependent on tobacco"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 26 April, 2000, 10:03 GMT 11:03 UK
Zimbabwe tobacco crisis
Tobacco auction
This year's crop is down by 66% on last year
The major tobacco growers in Zimbabwe have stayed away from a tobacco auction that is normally vital to the country's economy.

The growers blame violent unrest over land reform for the fact that only half the usual quantity of the crop was up for sale.

Zimbabwe is the world's third largest tobacco producer and the crop is its main export.

BBC Harare correspondent Grant Ferrett says that until the tobacco sales begin in earnest, Zimbabwe's economy is, in effect, at a standstill.

Squatters and civil war veterans have occupied many of the big white-owned tobacco farms in recent weeks, and some crops have been set on fire.

In recent violence, five opposition activists have been reported killed, and several farm workers beaten up or doused with petrol and set alight.

A crippled economy

Farmers' leaders have denied that there has been any officially organised boycott and have urged tobacco growers to start selling next month.

Only one third of Zimbabwe's usual quantity of the crop is up for sale. The tobacco marketing authority has said the disruption has already cost millions of dollars.

Tobacco farmers say the recent invasion of 1,000 white-owned farms, along with severe fuel shortages, have caused delays in sending the crop to market.


Tobacco facts
Auction down by 66% on last year
Single biggest foreign currency earner for Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe is the world's third largest tobacco producer
5,000 tobacco growers in Zimbabwe, 2,000 large scale
"The result is that no real work can take place on the farms," said Harry Milbank, a farmer whose land has been occupied in Wedza, 200 km (125 miles) south-east of Harare.

The tobacco sales earn about a third of the country's hard currency.

Many farmers also insist that they can't afford to sell until the Zimbabwe dollar is devalued. The exchange rate has been unofficially fixed by the government for nearly 18 months.

Ominous warning

The tobacco farmers have been accused of blackmailing the government by boycotting the auction.

The main government-controlled newspaper, The Herald, said a decision to delay the supply of tobacco to the auction floors, which open Wednesday, was "a shameless act aimed at holding the government to ransom."



The Herald appeared to suggest that the boycott could provoke more violence.

"How will the war veterans, who had agreed to a ceasefire react to this act of blackmail and breach of faith?" an editorial in the Herlad asked.

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See also:

19 Apr 00 | Business
Zimbabwe's economy under threat
26 Apr 00 | UK Politics
Zimbabwe ministers head for UK
24 Apr 00 | Africa
Zimbabwe farm workers targeted
21 Apr 00 | Africa
Thousands join Zimbabwe march
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