HARARE, March 24 — Sales of flue-cured tobacco in the current market season in Zimbabwe have declined by 21 per cent to 7.3 million kilogrammes compared with 9.3 million kg sold during the same period last year, the Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB) says.

The TIMB said here Monday in its weekly update that by Friday last week, exactly 12 days after sales opened, 7.3 million kg of tobacco worth 16.2 million US dollars had been sold at an average price of 2.23 USD per kg.

This is 21 percent less than 9.3 million kg valued at 26.5 million USD sold at an average price of 2.85 USD per kg during the comparable period last year.

Poor prices dampened the opening of this season as prices were as low as 60 cents per kg at some auction floors. The heavy rains which delayed harvesting of the crop and subsequently the opening of the trading floors, have been blamed for the low prices as they affected the quality of the tobacco.

Cumulative auction floor sales amounted to 2.5 million kg at an average price of 1.60 USD per kg compared with 4.7 million kg purchased by contractors at an average price of 2.23 USD per kg last year.

In the corresponding period last year, about 3.7 million kg of tobacco wer auctioned at an average price of 2.42 USD per kg while contract purchases totalled 6.6 million kg at an average price of 3.14 USD per kg.

The TIMB said a total of 92 027 growers registered to sell tobacco this marketing season, with 17,344 of them being new growers.

According to the TIMB, seasonal flue-cured tobacco exports had reached 32.7 million kg valued at 216.2 million USD so far this year, up from 14.7 million kg worth 54 million USD realized during the same period last year.

Zimbabwe expects 190 million kg of tobacco to be sold this year, compared with 216 million kg sold last year.