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Tobacco production set to improve

The company's Managing Director, Mark Mason and Finance Director, William Fernandes said the company which is now focusing on the export market, expects to increase its earnings significantly this fiscal year.

"Last year we paid 1.7bn/- in revenue but we expect to pay 1.9bn/- by the end of this fiscal year," Mr Fernandes said during a press briefing in Dar es Salaam over the weekend.

He said local tobacco production has increased last year thanks to good weather, hardworking farmers and availability of inputs such as Minjingu organic fertilizers.

Mr Mason said AOTTL focuses on the export market because the local market is still small and growing at a snail's pace compared to markets in emerging markets of Asia. "The local market is small and accounts for only five per cent to us," said Mr Mason.

Mr Mason said the company which controls about 40 per cent of the market, has been working with smallholder tobacco farmers who have been supplied with inputs, given some field training in order to improve quality and quantity of the "brown gold."

"Our target is to continue working with smallholder farmers rather than large scale commercial farmers. We are working to increase productivity at farm base other than see farmers take up more land for tobacco cultivation," said Mr Mason who pointed out that with cigarettes manufacturers facing increasing pressure from health activists, the future of tobacco is restrictive.

The company which is currently working with farmers and Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives in Mara region to revive commercial cultivation of the commodity which was banned in 1970s due to pests attacks, paid farmers 1.34 US dollars (approx. 2,121/-) per kilogramme this season.

The price was pegged on payments made to Kenyan farmers instead of 1.15 US dollars (about 1,820/-) per kilo which many local farmers earned. Mr Mason said by early this year 185,735 kilogrammes of the brown gold have been bought.

AOTTL which is the only tobacco company operating in Mara region was recently defended by Tanzania Tobacco Board against allegations of underpaying farmers in the region and retaining exclusive rights. The company was also accused of using Kenyan grading system to confuse local farmers.

The TTB acting Director General, Ms Mary Assey said in a statement that any tobacco company is welcome to join efforts to revive commercial production in Mara ahead of government decision to allow commercial production of the commodity.

"In Mara region, the Ministry of Agriculture is yet to approve commercial production of tobacco after two seasons of trials and the only company that has been supporting the initiative is Alliance One Tobacco Tanzania Limited," said Ms Assey.

Ms Assey also dismissed recent reports by Mara regional authorities that the tobacco company, a subsidiary of North Carolina based Alliance One International, has been enjoying monopoly and underpaying farmers of the commodity. She said prices paid to farmers and the grading system follow both Kenyan and local standards and that farmers are paid the highest price prevailing at a particular time.

"Tobacco cultivation in Mara region is a bit different from other parts of the country because its on trial basis and commercial until when the ministry approves the commodity," argued Ms Assey.

Emphasizing that Alliance One is behind the push to ensure that commercial production of the commodity is reinstated, the TTB acting DG argued that the Board was established with statutory powers to protect farmers' interests.

"Tobacco Board was established by Act of Parliament No. 24 of 2001 with responsibility to regulate the industry, supervise development which includes protecting interests of farmers against cheating buyers," she argued.

THE importation of motorcycles and rickshaws has helped ...

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Author: DAILY NEWS Reporter

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