Three types of tobacco have traditionally been grown in the country: Virginia flue-cured, Burley and Oriental tobacco. Over 95% of Zimbabwe’s tobacco consists of flue-cured tobacco, which is renowned for its flavor. The cash crop is a major part of Zimbabwe’s economy. In 2017, tobacco accounted for 11% of the country’s GDP, and 3 million of the country’s 16 million people depended on tobacco farming for their livelihood. The main export market is China, which purchased 54% of Zimbabwe’s exports in 2015.
Tobacco is harvested either leaf by leaf, in the case of Virginia and oriental tobaccos, or by the whole plant, in the case of burley. The next stage, curing, plays a major role in defining the leaf’s final quality and character. Each tobacco type is cured differently: air-curing for burley, flue-curing for Virginia, and sun-curing for oriental.
Burley tobacco tends to darken during the air-drying process, but Virginia tobacco is actually quite light in color. This lightness is reflected in its taste, which is far milder and crisper than burley tobacco. Also, while burley tobacco dries in the cold, fresh air, flue-cured tobacco requires hot, dark areas to dry.
Since 1980, however, both flue-cured and Burley oriental tobacco output volumes increased steadily with flue-cured tobacco production reaching 114 million kg and burley reaching 2,5 million kg in 1986.
Local tobacco has been famous for many years for its quality, grading and presentation, as the country had established markets in more than 40 countries worldwide.
Low labour costs and high yields made Zimbabwe a more competitive producer of quality tobacco than its Brazilian and American rivals. Tobacco production in Zimbabwe is mainly for export; only two-three percent of the total was consumed on the domestic market. Tobacco exports grew since the 1980s, with half of Zimbabwe’s tobacco crop exported to the EU.